Did You Know There's Real Science Behind Kissing?

Did You Know There's Real Science Behind Kissing?

Discover the psychology behind a kiss and what a kiss means to others and yourself.

A kiss is one of the most recognisable ways to express affection in public or in private. It is a mainstay of most types of relationship, from familial to romantic and in many cultures its considered to be the ultimate way to show your love for another person. There are as many types of kiss as there are emotions and each type is irrevocably associated with particular underlying feelings. While it may seem simple on the surface, a kiss is actually a layered and complex thing, and it is only when we start to really think about it that we realise how versatile and varied this humble act can be.

Probably the first experience any of us has with kissing is being kissed as babies and children. This is likely how kisses are given their mysterious power, which stays with us until the day we die; a physical token of our parents' undying love is an extremely rewarding thing for a child, as evidenced by the laughs and smiles of babies as their parents kiss them. Being close to the face of another person shows that they trust you, and feel no need to keep any distance from you, whether physical or metaphorical.

Naturally, as an emotion-driven species, we have evolved many ways to display our feelings to the world and to others. This has resulted in the ability to subtly exchange body language, either consciously or unconsciously, and the same level of deep understanding also applies to kissing. For example, a long, lingering, passionate kiss indicates not only romance but sexual undertones, whereas a quick peck can show that the person is simply observing protocol, or kissing because its required, without really meaning it.

Kissing could be an activity unto itself or a prelude to other forms of intimacy, and the type and intensity of the kiss can be a vital factor in understanding how you are relating to your partner. This is true of people who have just met, but also of people in a relationship; cold, perfunctory kisses might indicate that you have annoyed or upset your partner, or that your relationship is somehow threatened. Kissing is inextricably bound up with our emotions, and functions as a reinforcement and signal of our deepest feelings—this is the main purpose it serves.

Another purpose, though not entirely unrelated, is in releasing pleasurable brain chemicals which make us feel good. These chemicals contribute to the feeling that a person is "right" for another person, and go a long way towards ensuring a long and happy relationship. Scientists have studied lovers kissing and discovered that the act of kissing affects a person's brain chemistry in much the same way as cocaine; with the right person, it releases large amounts of the "reward" neurotransmitter known as dopamine.

Getting this type of gratification naturally and healthily can be incredibly good for a person's well-being. Many studies have shown that being cheerful, positive and happy has a multitude of beneficial effects on the human body, including aiding fertility, and fighting cancer and disease. This shows that kissing is more than simply a nice way to spend some time; it actually could be invaluable in ensuring a long and healthy life.

Kissing, however, is not without its dark side. Certain types of kiss can be considered taboo, depending on the culture and circumstances, and indeed some of the distinctions can be quite surprising. For example, in Muslim cultures, its considered normal for two men to exchange kisses in greeting; however, this same culture would frown upon two men kissing romantically. In Western cultures, however, kisses are generally only considered taboo depending on the context or setting.

For example, in a family setting, a grandfather affectionately kissing his teenage grandson might not even be commented upon; doing the same thing in public, though, might raise a few eyebrows. Kissing between lovers in a formal setting can also be taboo—particularly if the kiss is especially passionate. Generally, like most actions, kissing is extremely context-specific; what is acceptable in one place won't be acceptable in another.

These are only a few of the facts and ideas surrounding kissing; as is the case with any display of affection and emotion, there are always different interpretations of what kisses mean, and different viewpoints on whether or not they are acceptable. Ultimately, while it may not have been so since the dawn of time, kissing is—and likely will remain for some time—one of our most cherished and desired customs, which is as diverse as it is inscrutable.