We've all been in this situation: You're standing in line at a grocery store and you notice a stranger's baby in front of you — focusing all of its attention in your direction with an unblinking stare. In response, you might smile, make a silly face, or even play a bit of peek-a-boo. As cute as it is, there's also something slightly creepy about it. After all, if an adult stared at you in the grocery store like that, you'd probably end up alerting security, but a baby's uninterrupted gaze is just fine. Seriously though, why is that baby not blinking? Is it your imagination or do babies really not blink that much?

It's Not Your Imagination

As it turns out, babies really do blink way less than adults do. One study from 1979 of 269 children between the ages of 2 days and 18 years and 179 adults aged 18–50 found that adults tend to blink 10 to 15 times per minute. The youngest babies, on the other hand, blink a little less than twice a minute. After infancy, the rate of blinking gradually increases until a kid turns about 14 years old when their blinking rate levels out with grown-ups.

Here's the thing, though: No one quite knows why this is. There are some prevailing hypotheses on the matter, however.

Hypothesis #1: Tiny Peepers Need Less Lubrication

The idea behind this hunch is that because babies have smaller eyes and sleep way more than adults, their eyes require less lubrication. This makes some sense. After all, keeping your eyes properly moisturized is one of the main reasons why you blink in the first place, among other reasons like removing dust and other irritants and protecting yourself from things like bugs or eye-poking (see The Three Stooges for more information).

The problem with this theory is that it's pretty much been disproven. For a 2011 study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, Leigh F. Bacher, Ph.D. observed 44 four-month-old babies to see if the amount of exposed surface area of their eyes in any way correlated to the number of times they blinked. She found no relationship between the two. The only relationship she did find was between eye blinking and shifts in attention — and adults are known to blink during shifts in attention, too.

Hypothesis #2: Babies Are Too Alert to Bother With Blinking

The next theory is that because the babies are so new to the world, they're super interested in what's going on around them. As a result, babies are extremely focused on everything and their brains are working hard to take in all this info. As a result, blinking is a mere distraction.

There is a lot of promise to this idea, as adults also blink less when they're intensely focused on something, as Live Science explains. This is most apparent in the condition known as computer vision syndrome, where continuous regular viewing of computer screens can lead to dry eyes and reduced blinking. In other words, babies are as interested in the real world as you are interested in all of those cat videos you watch.

Related Video: 9 Curious Facts About Babies

Hypothesis #3: The Dopamine Part of a Baby's Brain is Underdeveloped

The final theory on a baby's lack of blinkage relates to their brain development. Believe it or not, how much you blink is linked to your brain's levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps brain cells communicate with one another. As a result, blink rate has been used in adults to help identify certain medical conditions: Patients with Parkinson's disease, which is associated with too little dopamine, can exhibit reduced blinking, while those with schizophrenia, which is linked to too much dopamine, blink at a higher rate.

Because the dopamine system is still developing in a baby's brain, it's believed that their reduced rate of blinking may be a natural part of their brain development. While the technology isn't there yet, some hope that by observing blinking in babies, we might be able to predict their risk of dopamine-related conditions like ADHD.

So, to sum it all up, no one really knows why it is that babies have the edge over us in staring contests and nothing is going to stop them from gazing deep into your soul at the checkout line. Your best bet is to smile back, make a funny face, and polish up your peek-a-boo skills.

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Learn more about babies and their development in "Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy" by Jena Pincott. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Brian VanHooker April 26, 2019

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