‘The Science of Kissing’
Click here to listen to our interview with Sheril Kirshenbaum. She was our guest in this Science Forum discussion.
In her new book, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, science writer Sheril Kirshenbaum explores the evolutionary and cultural origins of kissing and why it makes us feel so good.
Species from turtles to lions have animal versions of kisses. Though we may not recognize the head-tapping and neck-nipping that is sometimes involved as conventional kissing, those animal variants can cement social bonds and resolve conflicts. There are cultural variations on human romantic kissing too. Some involve sniffing, and some biting a partner’s eyelashes.
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Watch kissing-like behaviors in animals:
But it’s no wonder that mouth-kissing can deliver a complex sensory bonanza. Our lips are fine-tuned to feel, thanks to their original job, testing the texture and temperature of food. As we develop, we use our mouths for nursing and, in some cultures, for passing pre-chewed food to infants. By linking lip stimulation with a feeling of love and security, these behaviors may have laid a foundation for romantic kissing later in life.
A kiss also sets off a carnival of brain chemistry. With a new partner, kissing releases dopamine that contributes to that feeling of craving, obsession and desire. Even when the dopamine rush dies down, kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that can promote trust and bonding. That’s why Kirshenbaum says she makes it a point to kiss her husband every morning. “Kissing is a very healthy behavior,” she adds. “[It’s] something we should all be doing more of.”
- Do you remember your first kiss?
- Has a kiss ever changed your choice of romantic partner?
- Have you experienced a cross-cultural misunderstanding about kissing?
Read our conversation with Kirshenbaum. It’s just below.
Humanoid robots practice kissing: Is this the future of kissing?
- The Intersection blog, co-hosted by Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney.
- A review of The Science of Kissing in USA Today.
- Another review written by science blogger SciCurious.
- Read an excerpt from The Science of Kissing.
- A brain in love looks the same in China and the U.S.
- Learn more about the sweaty T-shirt experiment that Sheril mentioned.