If you want to know what someone is really thinking, look them in the eye. Specifically, keep track of how much blinking they’re doing. Career experts and studies have shown that this is where we reveal ourselves, whether we want to or not.
It also may be where we lose the opportunity to make friends: any unusual pattern in blinking — too much, too little, strangely timed — can freak other people out.
Too many blinks indicates stress
We don’t just tend to blink when we look at something bright. We also start blinking excessively when we’re under pressure. For hiring managers, it’s something to watch out for in job seekers.
“If you’ve been making great eye contact the whole interview and suddenly start blinking rapidly —more than 70 blinks per minute— when asked a question, this can indicate stress and a desire to avoid the truth,” body language expert Patti Wood told the Houston Chronicle.
Too few blinks indicate lying
Excessive staring is a bad sign too in workplace settings. When you stare at your interviewer unblinkingly, you may be lying, according to experts.
As Lillian Glass, a behavioral analyst who has worked with the Federal Bureau of Information put it, “When people tell the truth, most will occasionally shift their eyes around and may even look away from time to time. Liars, on the other hand, will use a cold, steady gaze to intimidate and control.”
A 2008 study had similar findings, and found that liars blink less while lying, and start blinking rapidly after the lie. The study’s lead author, Sharon Leal, suggests that the staring is a form of liars controlling the situation: “liars will be more inclined than truth tellers to monitor and control their demeanor so they will appear honest.”
As for the rapid blinking after the act of lying? Leal suggests that it may be a “release of energy after the tension of lying.”
It’s as if your eyelids cramp with the effort of lying and need to stretch.
We blink when we want something out of sight, out of mind
Have you ever seen someone do a slow blink after hearing something terrible come out of someone’s mouth? I certainly do it when I wish to forget what I just heard. A 2010 study found a reason for why we do this: to block out information. In the study, neuroscientists tracked people’s blinking as they were reading a book, and they found that we blink more when we’re not paying attention.
“What we suggest is that when you start to mind-wander, you start to gate the information even at the sensory endings — you basically close your eyelid so there’s less information coming into the brain,” one of the study’s authors, neuroscientist Daniel Smilek, said.
In these cases, blinking is a way to create a tiny physical barrier between us and the outside world. A tiny ‘nope’ to whatever you just heard.
However you blink, realize that after reading this, you may start counting them, as I do now. One, two, three. Am I anxious, under stress or a liar?