Any seasoned Christmas party attendee will know the feeling of being trapped in the world’s most boring conversation. Fortunately, there’s a way of escape without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Scientists have discovered that blinking at length helps signal, ever so subtly, to your conversational counterpart that it’s time for them to back off. December 2018 research published in online journal PLOS ONE found that blinking can have a subconscious purpose. Paul Hömke from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics said, “I noted that the longer blinks seem to have a special role in signaling ‘message received,’ being often timed with nods and the like.”
In his research, Hömke got 35 volunteers to have conversations with virtual avatars. The avatars asked them a bunch of open-ended questions, such as “How was your weekend? What did you do?” And while the volunteers answered, the avatars would blink. Some avatars would blink for a fifth of a second, others would blink for two-thirds of a second. And the result was that those volunteers whose blathering on was met by a long blink would stop talking about whatever they were talking about a few seconds before those volunteers who were confronted by an avatar’s shorter blink. “Our findings show that one of the subtlest of human movements — eye blinking — appears to have a surprising effect on the co-ordination of everyday human interaction,” Hömke told The Times.
The best thing about this news is that deliberate blinks always last for longer than the involuntary blinks that we do as part of a reflex action to help lubricate our eyes, so you don’t have to awkwardly time your blinks.
That’s not the only way you can use blinks to your advantage. Previous research shows that, when talking to a liar, you can note they’ll blink less frequently than they do while telling the truth. Once the lie is deployed, they’ll then speed up to about eight times faster than usual!
This article was originally written by Sophie Wilkinson. For more, check out our sister site, Grazia.