Did you know that humans spend approximately 10% of waking hours with eyes closed? The mystery of the eye blink has been uncovered. It turns out that there is more of a purpose to blinking than to keep eyeballs lubricated. Science has discovered that the tiny moments of a blink are used by the human brain to power down… rest. Researchers at Osaka University, Japan, used brain scanning to discover that areas of the brain dedicated to focus and attention go “offline” momentarily during an eye blink. Then brain regions collectively identified as the "default mode network" power up. Once in idle mode this cluster of regions in the brain come alive allowing thoughts to wander. And there are between 15-20 of such moments each minute. The research has shown that these “stops” typically come at a time for example when someone ends a sentence or a scene changes in a movie. These natural “stops” are unconsciously perceived as opportune times for a break…a blink.
The “default mode network” is made-up of separate and distinct regions in the brain that is active at times when people recall events from their past or imagine future scenarios. During a daydream, or thought wandering time, such as during an eye blink, these regions function together as the brain’s neural setting. Future research is hoping new information about this may lead to an understanding of such mental health conditions as autism, Alzheimer’s, major depression, and schizophrenia. All of these diagnoses have been found to have disruptions in the “default mode network”.
Scientists are using studies of the idle brain to learn even more about the purpose of down time. They do know that when a daydream or mind wandering occurs that those thoughts are mostly focused inward on or near the self. During concentrated work time we are not introspective as other brain networks come alive. Such research now begins to tackle a greater scientific understanding of the sense of self and what a person’s inner world is really about.