The world goes dark for about a fifth of a second each time it flashes, a part of a moment that most people hardly notice. But for a Formula 1 race car driver traveling up to 354 kilometers per hour, that fifth means nearly 20 meters of vision loss.
Given how often people blink (up to 30 times every minute), a driver can lose up to 595 meters—more than a third of a mile—of visual information per minute due to blinking.
It is often thought that people blink at random intervals, but researchers found that this was not the case for three Formula One drivers. instead of, Drivers tend to blink on the same parts of the course During each cycle, cognitive neuroscientist Ryota Nishizono and colleagues reported on May 19. iScience.
Nishizono, of NTT Communication Science Laboratories in Atsugi, Japan, was inspired to study how humans process information during physical activity by his past as a professional cyclist.
He was surprised to find almost no literature on blinking behavior in active humans even though under extreme conditions like car racing or cycling, “a slight mistake could lead to life-threatening danger,” says Nishizuno. So he partnered with a Japanese Formula 1 racing team to examine how humans blink while driving at high speed.
Nishizono and his teammates attached eye-tracking devices to the helmets of three drivers and had them drive three Formula circuits – Fuji, Suzuka and Sogo – for a total of 304 laps.
The team found that where drivers blink was surprisingly predictable. The drivers had a common pattern of blinking that had a strong connection to acceleration, such that drivers tended not to blink during a change of speed or direction—such as while on a curve in the track—but blinked while on comparatively safer straight roads.
The discovery highlights the trade-off between keeping our eyes moist and not losing vision during critical tasks, says Jonathan Mathis, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston who studies human movement and was not involved in the research. “We think of blinking as a do-nothing behavior,” he says, “but it’s not just about scanning the eyes. Blinking is part of our visual system.”
Nishizono next wants to explore the processes in the brain that allow or inhibit blinking at a given moment, he says, and he’s also interested in how blinking behavior differs in the general population.