Above: A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek (Yogi)

The Bliss of a Kiss

A gentle caress, a passionate embrace, a picture-perfect Hollywood kiss: the variety of kisses is simply endless, just like the desire to experience them. There are many reasons for the popularity of kissing. In fact, a whole branch of science, called philematology, is entirely dedicated to understanding this seemingly irrational behavior.

Fast Fact: Two-thirds of people tilt their heads to the right when they kiss. This head position is preferred by babies and even fetuses!Not only is kissing widespread, it is often learned very early in life. Anthropological studies demonstrate that about 90% of human societies participate in some sort of kissing behaviour! Philematologists believe that mouth-to-mouth feeding of infants by their mothers leads children to associate close face-to-face contact with contentment and love. Likewise, mothers kiss their children’s faces to sooth and comfort them. In this way, the practice is continually relearned and reinforced, generation after generation.

As for romantic kisses, scientists have shown that when people get within “kissing distance,” they are better able to “smell” each other’s pheromones and choose a good mate. In this way, they improve their chances of producing genetically fit offspring. This could be the reason why the first kiss can make or break a relationship.

Fast Fact: Too much dopamine can cause a loss of both appetite and sleep. In other words, it can cause you to feel “love-sick.”But what is it about romantic kissing that makes it so exciting? Neurobiology has an answer for that. Kissing stimulates a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, causing the release of the signaling molecule (neurotransmitter) dopamine, which is responsible for the sensation of pleasure. First-time satisfying experiences are especially strong stimulants of dopamine release, which helps to explain why first kisses are so thrilling. But subsequent kisses also work wonders in our brains. Studies of couples in long-term relationships have shown that kissing decreases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

So if smooching is all this and more, do other animals kiss or do humans have the monopoly on this practice? It turns out that kissing-like behaviour is common in many animal species, from snails to elephants! It is difficult, of course, to know just how much emotion is involved, but biologists believe that animals “kiss” to recognize each other, to make up, and to begin courting rituals.

Learn More!

Why do humans kiss? (Scienceline)

http://scienceline.org/2006/10/ask-fiore-kiss/ 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Kissing (Discover Magazine)

http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/20-things-you-didnt-know-about-kissing Science of Kissing (Wendy L. Hill, Lafayette College)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mun5nXXy6II Pucker up: Scientists study kissing (CNN Health)

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-02-13/health/kissing.science_1_first-kiss-hormone-levels-oxytocin-levels?_s=PM:HEALTH Health Benefits of Kissing (Best Kisses)

http://www.bestkisses.com/kisses-for-health.html Pucker Up, Furry Lips! 10 Animals That Love to Kiss (Kissing Matters)

http://kissingmatters.com/pucker-up-furry-lips-10-species-kissing-in-the-animal-kingdom/ The Science of Kissing: A Q&A with Sheril Kirshenbaum (National Post)


Other References

Floyd, Kory, Justin Boren, AnnegretHannawa, Colin Hesse, Breanna McEwan, and Alice Veksler. "Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction." Western Journal of Communication 73.2 (2009): 113-33. Print.

Inna Sekirov

I'm a Medical Microbiology resident at the University of British Columbia. I enjoy reading good books, dancing and the beauty of nature.

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