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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A man's kiss is his signature (Mae West)

Some of my previous blogs were about striking differences between humans and animals like communicationlanguage, brain versus mind, clothing, fire, housing and tools, and the subsequent use of fossil fuels, mathematics, timekeeping and writing and so on. A less obvious one is kissing.

Many animals use their head to touch each other. To some extent, monkeys appear to "kiss" each other but at the same time they are removing insects from their mates. Hence, grooming is probably a better word than kissing. The way humans kiss each other is unique. Its meaning is also quite diverse: parental and religious (forehead), friendship (cheek, mouth, nose) and romantic (mouth, tongue).

The lips are our most exposed erogenous zone on our body. Since ancient Egypt its red colour has been amplified by women through using lipstick. The colour red is also associated with ripe - available - food (e.g., fruits). The colour red also has a special meaning in the male brain as it has been used in prostitution for centuries. Even current studies show that looking at red objects quickens the pulse and makes us feel excited. (source)

The precise origin of kissing is unknown. But some scientists hypothesise that the practice evolved from feeding rituals between animal mothers and their young, wherein mothers would chew and break down food before passing it directly to their offspring by mouth. Out of that gesture grew a universal sign of love and affection. I prefer the hypothesis of anthropologist Helen Fisher, who says kissing evolved to fulfil three essential needs: sex drive, romantic love and attachment. Romantic kissing is a part of more than 90% of human cultures, and its role is to help us to find partners, commit to one person and keep couples together long enough to have a child. (Time Magazine)

The 90% is a puzzling one though. If kissing is not universal, then someone must have invented it. One anthropologist has traced the first recorded kiss back to India, somewhere around 1500 B.C. From there, the hypothesis claims, the kiss spread westward when Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C. All across Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, we find cultures that didn't know about mouth kissing until their first contact with European explorers. (source)

Sometimes a kiss does not go well and romantic feelings instantly change upon first contact. According to evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup, 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women say they have ended a budding relationship because of a bad kiss. It turns out that our sense of smell may be partially responsible as we pick up subconscious clues about the other person's DNA or reproductive status. A biologist found that women are most attracted to the scent of men who have a very different genetic code immune system than their own. (source)

A good romantic kiss quickens our pulse and dilates our pupils. Our brains receive more oxygen than normal and breathing can become irregular and deepen. Our cheeks flush, too, but that's only the beginning. There is an associated rise in the neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for craving and desire. Meanwhile, serotonin spikes to stimulate obsessive thoughts about a partner. Oxytocin, popularly called the "love hormone," is involved in bonding, fostering a sense of attachment. This is the chemical likely responsible for maintaining a loving relationship over years and decades. (source)

Kissing may serve as nature's ultimate litmus test in determining when to pursue a relationship.