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Blinking vs. Flickering: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on October 19, 2023
Blinking refers to the rapid opening and closing of the eyes, while flickering describes the rapid and irregular variation in the brightness of a light source.

Key Differences

Blinking and flickering, though seemingly similar in periodic motion, represent distinct concepts. Blinking primarily refers to the act of shutting and reopening the eyes quickly, a natural and necessary bodily function. It helps to moisten and clear out debris, ensuring that the eyes remain comfortable and can function correctly. Flickering, on the other hand, pertains to a light that quickly and irregularly varies in its brightness.
In everyday experience, one might notice blinking when observing people or animals, as it is an involuntary reflex that serves to protect and lubricate the eye. Flickering is most commonly associated with unstable lights, like a candle flame disturbed by a breeze or an old fluorescent bulb on the verge of burning out. It's more of a visual irregularity, often deemed undesirable in artificial lighting scenarios.
Blinking has evolved as a biological mechanism, serving critical roles like spreading tears across the eye surface and offering brief moments of respite from visual stimuli. Flickering, in contrast, is typically a byproduct of inconsistencies in a light's power source or the medium it's passing through.
The distinction is clear when you juxtapose the two: while blinking is a purposeful action or reflex of the eyelids, flickering is an unintended inconsistency in the illumination of a light source.

Comparison Chart


Rapid opening and closing of the eyes
Rapid and irregular variation in the brightness of a light source


Biological action or reflex
Often related to inconsistencies in lighting


Lubricates, cleanses, and protects the eyes
Typically unintended and can indicate a problem


Regular and rhythmic
Irregular and sporadic


Humans, animals
Candle flames, malfunctioning bulbs

Blinking and Flickering Definitions


A reflex to help moisten and protect the eyes.
Blinking helps to distribute tears evenly across the cornea.


A wavering or fluttering visual effect.
The flickering of the old film reel added to its vintage charm.


A deliberate action to communicate or signal.
She kept blinking her eyes to indicate she was in distress.


A quick, irregular variation in brightness.
The flickering candle cast dancing shadows on the wall.


A brief interruption of vision.
The sudden brightness had everyone blinking in surprise.


An inconsistency in the illumination of a light source.
The room's flickering light gave it a spooky ambiance.


To close and open one or both of the eyes rapidly.


A rapid, repeated on-off cycle.
The neon sign outside was flickering and needed repair.


To look in astonishment or disbelief, typically with the eyes blinking
Stood blinking at the money they found in the drawer.
Blinked at the results of the experiment.


A brief or sporadic appearance.
A flickering hope emerged amidst the gloom.


To look through half-closed eyes, as in a bright glare; squint
Blinked at the page trying to make out the letters.


To move waveringly; flutter
Shadows flickering on the wall.


To give off light with intermittent gleams; flash on and off
"blazing neon signs, brilliant shop windows, decorations blinking across the fronts of half-finished tower blocks" (Jess Row).


To burn or shine unsteadily or fitfully
The candle flickered before sputtering out.


To pretend to be ignorant of; disregard or condone
A mayor who refused to blink at corruption.


To be displayed with fluctuating brightness
A movie flickered on the screen.


To waver or back down, as in a contest of wills
"This was the first genuine, direct confrontation between this administration and the Soviets. It was the U.S.A. that blinked" (Zbigniew Brzezinski).


To appear briefly
A smile flickered on her face.


To cause to blink
Blinked his eyes to clear his vision.


To cause to move waveringly.


To hold back or remove from the eyes by blinking
Blinked back the tears.


A brief movement; a tremor.


To refuse to recognize or face
Blink ugly facts.


An inconstant or wavering light.


To transmit (a message) with a flashing light.


A brief or slight sensation
A flicker of doubt.


The act or an instance of rapidly closing and opening the eyes or an eye.


Shining unsteadily or varying rapidly in brightness (referring to a light or a source of light)


An instant
I'll be back in a blink.


Present participle of flicker


(Scots) A quick look or glimpse; a glance.


A short, uncertain burst.
Even after the acrimonious breakup, she still felt flickerings of love for him.


A flash of light; a twinkle.


Shining unsteadily


See iceblink.


That blinks.
A blinking light


The blinking telly isn't working again.


Present participle of blink


The act of something that blinks.
The steady blinkings of lights on the console


A reflex that closes and opens the eyes rapidly


The blinking signal light


Closing the eyes intermittently and rapidly;
He stood blinking in the bright sunlight


(used of persons) informal intensifiers;
What a bally (or blinking) nuisance
A bloody fool
A crashing bore
You flaming idiot


Rapid shutting and reopening of the eyes.
She was blinking rapidly due to the strong wind.


A momentary shutting of the eyelids.
After hours of reading, his blinking became more frequent.


What does blinking primarily refer to?

Blinking refers to the rapid opening and closing of the eyes.

Why do we blink?

Blinking helps to moisten, cleanse, and protect the eyes by spreading tears over its surface.

Does blinking increase when something irritates the eyes?

Yes, blinking can increase in frequency as a reflex to protect the eyes from irritants.

Is flickering always related to light?

While commonly associated with light, "flickering" can also describe any brief or sporadic appearance or sensation.

What is the meaning of flickering in the context of light?

Flickering refers to a rapid and irregular variation in the brightness of a light source.

Is a flickering computer screen a good sign?

No, a flickering computer screen can indicate technical issues and can be harmful to the eyes over time.

Can certain conditions affect the rate of blinking?

Yes, conditions like dry eye syndrome or certain neurological disorders can affect blinking rates.

Can blinking be used for communication?

Yes, blinking can be used to signal or communicate, as in Morse code or non-verbal cues.

Is flickering a normal behavior for LED lights?

Quality LED lights should not flicker. If they do, it might be due to issues with the driver, compatibility, or electrical connections.

Can flickering be purposeful in some contexts?

Yes, in settings like films or theater, flickering might be used intentionally for atmospheric or dramatic effects.

Is blinking a voluntary or involuntary action?

Blinking can be both voluntary and involuntary. It often happens reflexively, but we can also blink deliberately.

Why might a light flicker?

Lights might flicker due to power fluctuations, unstable connections, or nearing the end of their lifespan.

How often should one blink in a minute?

On average, a person blinks about 15-20 times a minute, but this can vary based on activities and environment.

Can you describe flickering in terms of sensation?

Yes, flickering can describe a brief, intermittent sensation or feeling, like a flickering pain.

Can prolonged exposure to flickering lights be harmful?

Yes, prolonged exposure can cause discomfort, headaches, and even trigger seizures in individuals with photosensitive epilepsy.

In electronics, what does "flickering" signify?

Flickering in electronics often indicates power inconsistencies or impending component failure.

Is there a medical term for excessive blinking?

Yes, excessive blinking can be referred to as "blepharospasm."

How does blinking relate to sleepiness?

Increased blinking can be a sign of drowsiness or fatigue, often preceding the urge to close one's eyes and sleep.

Do all animals blink?

While many animals blink, not all do. Some, like snakes, lack eyelids and therefore cannot blink.

Is blinking more frequent in certain environments?

Yes, blinking can increase in bright light, windy conditions, or when eyes are exposed to irritants like dust.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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