How Long Can You Hold a Stare Without Blinking?

Alexandra Silveira
23 January 2012

Above: Image © Laurinemily, Wikimedia Commons

Chuck Norris, noted martial artist and actor, is arguably the toughest man on earth. We've all heard the rumors: Chuck Norris sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of Chuck Norris; Water boils faster when Chuck Norris watches it. But I bet that even Chuck Norris would be hard-pressed in the most challenging battle of all — the staring match!

Fast Fact (kind of): Superman owns a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas. Although staring matches vary, the most common form involves two people making direct eye contact. Different variations include trying to stare another person down while not breaking eye contact or not laughing. The most common and difficult version, the staredown, is one where two people stare at each other without blinking.

Did You Know? Staredowns are not limited to two people. In the movie, The Holiday, Cameron Diaz stares down a dog, something that is a bad idea! For many animals, a stare is an aggressive challenge. So, why is it so hard not to blink? Well, to start with, we blink all the time without even noticing! The average adult human blinks every 4-6 seconds. Quick math: that's 10-15 times per minute and 600-900 times per hour. As for Chuck Norris, I'm sure he blinks double that, probably one million times per hour (or maybe not).

Did You Know? Babies only blink 1-2 times per minute. A human's rate of blinking increases through childhood until adolescence when it equals that of an adult. One of the reasons that we don't notice blinking is that it is a reflexive action, meaning that it most often occurs automatically and is involuntary. Although we often don't notice when we blink, it can be controlled so that we can blink on purpose or, as in the case of a staring match, not blink at all.

There are several different muscles that control the simultaneous blinking of both eyes. The main muscles are the orbicularis oculi that closes the eyelid, and the levator palpebrae superioris, that opens the eye. The muscles can contract and relax in, well, the blink of an eye, which takes about 100-150 milliseconds. The suction caused by the closing of the eyelids spreads tears and eye lubricant produced by the lacrimal gland, or tear gland.

Did You Know? Birds only blink one eye at a time so that their vision is never completely disrupted. When Chuck Norris is around, birds don't blink at all! So, what's the purpose? Why do we blink? Blinking serves a couple of very important functions. The first of these functions is to keep the eyes from drying out. Blinking also helps clear away things that are irritating to the eyes, such as smoke or small particles.

Continuous irritation can cause the lacrimal glands to produce extra tears. Any of the excess fluid drains into the nasal cavity and can drain through the nose. That's why our noses run if we cry or get smoke in our eyes.

Blinking can also be affected by a variety of other factors. Fatigue, eye injury, medication, and diseases can all influence blinking rate. For example, fatigue causes people to blink more.

Did You Know? In a study using the threat of electrical shock, scientists found that a fear or anxiety response resulted in more and quicker blinking. So, how do you win a staredown? First off, you must review the rules as set down by the National Association of Staredown Professionals. Second, watch The Unflinching Triumph, a documentary (or rather mockumentary), about professional staredown. Third, remember what you've learned about blinking -- clear eyes of irritants and take a long blink before the contest starts to make sure your eyes are well moisturized.

And finally, remember that there is an important psychological element to staredown: It's a battle of wills. With practice and determination perhaps you could defeat even the toughest opponent of them all — Chuck Norris!

Learn More!

  • How Stuff Works on Blinking
  • Burr D. Vision: in the blink of an eye. Curr Biol. 2005 Jul 26;15(14):R554-6. Review.
  • Wikipedia on staring contests
  • Wikipedia on Blinking
  • The Register: The Odd Body Blinking
  • Grillon C, Ameli R, Woods SW, Merikangas K, Davis M. Fear-potentiated startle in humans: effects of anticipatory anxiety on the acoustic blink reflex. Psychophysiology. 1991 Sept;28(5):588-95.

Alexandra Silveira

I just received my PhD from the pathology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I currently live in Providence, Rhode Island and co-manage the Entertainment section of CurioCity. In my spare time I read about science, watch horrible comedies, and am an aspiring Rock Band rock star.


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