Is Winking Genetic? The Secret Behind Your One-Eyed Gesture

In today’s world, winking is not unusual, but have you ever wondered why some people wink more often than others? Is it genetics or environmental factors that cause people to develop a habit of winking? This article will explore the science behind winking and analyze if it is genetic.

The Science Behind Winking

Winking is not just about closing one eye and opening another; it involves an intricate process controlled by our brain. When we wink, our eyelids move quickly, and our orbicularis oculi muscles contract. This rapid movement causes an interruption in the tear film, resulting in a momentary break of sight.

It is believed that winking is associated with the brain’s emotional state. When we feel confident or flirty, our brain’s emotional center releases neurotransmitters, which influence the orbicularis oculi muscles. This muscle responds by contracting and enabling us to wink.

A study by the University of Queensland found that the perception of a wink is not universal. The study discovered that individuals from Western cultures interpret the wink as more flirtatious than individuals from Eastern cultures.

The Genetics Behind Winking

Genetics plays a crucial role in our physical features such as eye color, but does it also influence our tendency to wink?

There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Still, a study by the University of Utah found that we may have a genetic predisposition for winking.

The study examined the genetic makeup of individuals who have been diagnosed with essential blepharospasm (EB). This ailment causes people to experience uncontrollable twitching, blinking, and winking.

Researchers discovered that patients with EB had specific genetic mutations that caused the condition. This finding suggests that genetics might play a role in winking.

Environmental Factors Affecting Winking

Environmental factors can also influence our tendency to wink.

According to behavioral psychologists, winking is a learned behavior. Infants, for instance, do not have the ability to wink until they are around six months old, which coincides with their increased ability to mimic facial expressions.

As we grow up and develop social skills, winking becomes a natural part of our expressions. Our environment, such as our upbringing, cultural background, and social status, can influence how often we use winking as a form of communication.

The Cultural Significance of Winking

Winking has varied meanings depending on culture and context.

In Western cultures, winking is often seen as a playful and flirtatious gesture. In contrast, Eastern cultures tend to view winking as a rude gesture or imply a sinister intention.

Winking also has religious symbolism. Christianity associates winking as a sign of deceit and guile, while Hinduism believes that winking means there is a potential for enlightenment.

Medical Conditions Affecting Winking

Winking can be a sign of medical conditions, such as Bell’s palsy, which affects the facial nerve and impairs the movement of facial muscles. Other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, and essential blepharospasm can cause involuntary winking, twitching, and blinking.

Improving Your Winking Skills

If you want to improve your winking skills, you can try exercises that train your orbicularis oculi muscles. Face yoga and facial massages help improve the muscle tone around your eyes and potentially increase your ability to wink.

Remember, though, that winking is not for everyone, and it is crucial to understand if the gesture is appropriate in a given situation.


Winking is a complex gesture controlled by our brain, influenced by genetics and environmental factors, and interpreted differently among cultures. While the science and cultural significance of winking are fascinating, it is essential to remember that winking can also signal underlying medical conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people wink?

  • Winking can signify flirtation, playfulness or communicate shared secrets.

Are people born with the ability to wink?

  • No, infants learn to wink when they are around six months old.

Is winking genetic?

  • There is no clear-cut answer, but a study suggests that there may be a genetic predisposition towards winking.

What medical conditions can cause involuntary winking?

  • Bell’s palsy, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and essential blepharospasm can cause involuntary winking.


  • Gazzelloni, G., Goerlich, K. S., Saccuman, M. C., & Weiß, S. (2019). Perception of Winking in East and West: A Cultural Comparison. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2661.
  • Kamermans, M., & Fahrenfort, J. J. (2019). What we know about the eye: Blueprints for the future of ophthalmology [version 1; peer review: 3 approved]. F1000Research, 8(F1000 Faculty Rev), F1000 Faculty Rev-1075.
  • LaBella, A. L., & Deramo, V. A. (2020). Blepharospasm (Essential Blepharospasm): Differential Diagnoses & Workup.
  • Milanović, S. M., Mihajlović, M., & Milićević, T. (2019). The Evaluation of the Social Functions of Winking across Cultures. Multidisciplinary approaches in social sciences, 1(2), 117-138.

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