We all know the feeling of being cornered near the tree by some bore blathering on about their recent travels but there's a way of getting out of those dull conversations.
Scientists have discovered that blinking - at length - helps signal, ever so subtly, to your conversational counterpart, that it's time for them to back off. Research published in online journal Plos One found that blinking can find a subconscious purpose.
Paul Hömke, from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, said: "I noted that the longer blinks seem to have a special role in signaling 'message received', being often timed with nods and the like."
In his research, he had 35 volunteers have conversations with virtual avatars. The avatars asked them a bunch of open-ended questions, such as "How was your weekend? What did you do?"
While the volunteers answered, the avatars would blink. Some avatars would blink for a fifth of a second, othes would blink for two-thirds of a second.
The result was that those volunteers whose answers were met by a long blink would stop talking about whatever they were talking about a few seconds before the volunteers who's avatars blinked for a shorter amount of time.
"Our findings show that one of the subtlest of human movements — eye blinking — appears to have a surprising effect on the coordination of everyday human interaction," Hömke told The Times.
The conclusion is that, if you blink for longer, the boring wine-breathy middle manager who's followed you to the corner of the room, to tell you about their holiday in Fiji, will stop gassing on earlier. The best thing about this news is that deliberate blinks always last longer than the involuntary blinks that we do as part of a reflex action to help lubricate our eyes. So you won't accidentally put someone off talking!
In the meantime, here's some tips on how to make small talk at a party, until you get into your groove.