Why do babies barely blink?

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STARE into a baby’s eyes, and you might notice something odd: Babies rarely blink. As numerous studies have documented, adults, blink about 15 times a minute, on average. But newborns and infants blink far less often — only a handful of times every minute, with some babies blinking as infrequently as once a minute.
“The average is two or three blinks a minute — so, decidedly low,” said Leigh Bacher, a professor of psychol-ogy at the State University of New York at Oswego.
This may seem like just an odd little behavior, but researchers believe babies’ blinks may hold insights about the mysterious brains of these tiny humans.
That’s because blinking is regulated by the brain’s dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters that allows brain cells to communicate. So, studying blinking in babies could help us better understand how this important neuro-transmitter operates in little ones. Studies have shown the link between dopamine and blinking, as conditions or drugs that affect dopamine also change blinking rates. People with schizophrenia, which may be caused, in part, by too much dopamine, blink more frequently. Conversely, in Parkinson’s disease, which is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons, blinking is markedly decreased. Taking medication to raise dopamine levels brings blinking rate back up.
But dopamine also underlies a diverse set of other functions, from the control of movements and hormonal levels to learning and motivation. So, babies’ blinking rates may reveal something about the development of the dopamine system and perhaps even reflect individual differences in some aspects of babies’ nervous systems, Bacher said.
“Spontaneous blinks could be potentially useful clinically — as one additional source of information about neurobehavioral development,” Bacher said. She cautioned, however, that a lot more research is needed to under-stand blinking in babies. Spontaneous blinking is different from reflexive blinking, which serves to protect the eye from being poked by an external object, and from voluntary blinking, which we do on purpose.
Even in adults, the main purpose of spontaneous blinking is somewhat of a mystery. It’s generally thought to spread tears over the surface of the eye to keep it lubricated while removing dust and other irritants.
But that’s only one part of the story, researchers say. We blink more often than is necessary to keep the eyes wet, so blinking must have other functions as well.
Inquiry into the nature of spontaneous blinking goes a long way back.

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