PDF The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us

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During pregnancy, the breasts become swollen and tender. When the baby is born, a mother holds it close during feedings and the newborn responds by engulfing the nipple in his or her mouth.

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This encourages sucking behavior as the infant ingests vital nutrients needed to grow. Here is the first encounter with safety and love, and Morris hypothesized that throughout our lives we associate lip pressure with these feelings. Later in life, we will seek similar experiences in other relationships, and kissing will come to promote a special connection between family members as well as between lovers.

It allows us to convey warmth and affection through an expression we began to experience in infancy. There has been a great deal of literature about the importance of the relationship between mother and child, and how this may dictate other encounters throughout our lives. He, too, proposed that the drive to kiss begins during infancy.

The big difference between the views of Freud and Morris is that while Freud viewed kissing as a symptom of breast deprivation, Morris described it as a way of rekindling positive experiences from infancy.


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Then, using her tongue, she presses soft food between them. Premastication was the most practical way to wean children off breast milk before they had a full set of teeth. Written records of prechewing food date back to ancient Egypt.

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But humans have probably been feeding each other this way since prehistoric times and, indeed, the behavior likely comes to us from our nonhuman ancestors, like great apes. In fact, premastication persists in human cultures even today. A recent survey reported that people in 39 out of modern cultures studied premasticate a wide array of substances, citing food exchange, healing rituals, disease prevention, and more. However, it is important to note that kissing is not necessarily present in all cultures where the prechewing of food occurs.

For example, premastication was long practiced among the Ituri Pygmies of the Congo, yet mouth-to-mouth kissing was apparently unknown among these peoples until Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, just as with nursing, premastication may lay the foundation for kissing behaviors later in life. The premastication theory is, in essence, just an extension of this logic. Past the nursing stage, the child continues to develop and receive care from a loving mother, and now the oral stimulation occurs in a mouth-to-mouth fashion.

In this way, it is possible that through repeated puckering between mothers and children, the passionate romantic kiss between lovers could have emerged. However, there is also evidence that kissing may originate with a very different facial feature: our noses. The friendly and familial variant of the kiss could have started with a sniff. Humans have powerful scent glands under our skin, giving each of us a distinct smell.

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Scientists have observed that even in infancy, human beings use their noses to keep track of important relationships. Over time, a brush of the lips may have come to accompany this practice—eventually leading to the evolution of kissing as a greeting. Thus delivering a friendly kiss or sniff, or receiving one, amounts to an unspoken gesture of acceptance. The women squatted with their faces upturned; my attendants stood leaning over them, laid the bridge of their noses at right angles over theirs and commenced rubbing. It lasted somewhat longer than a hearty hand-shake with us. During this process they uttered a grunt of satisfaction.

Even today, many cultures continue to show affection by smelling a loved one on the cheek.

The Science of Kissing What Our Lips Are Telling Us

To properly bestow a kunik , you press your nostrils against the skin of a loved one and breathe in, thereby suctioning the skin of the recipient against your nose and upper lip. The Maori of New Zealand practice a similar custom. So might older habits of sniffing really be one reason we kiss today, particularly when it comes to delivering greetings? It might come across as offensive, embarrassing, or worse. Yet over much of our collective past, sniffing may have been considered a perfectly normal behavior among friends and acquaintances.

But no matter when or where it began, there is little doubt that it was dramatically reinforced once it started.


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She proposes that the behavior likely evolved to facilitate three essential needs: sex drive lust , romantic love attraction , and a sense of calmness and security attachment. Our sex drive encourages us to find partners, romantic love leads us to commit to one person, and attachment keeps us together long enough to have a child.

The Science of Kissing

These are not phases, but brain systems that can act together or independently. Each is involved in promoting reproduction, and kissing bolsters all three by encouraging close relationships. Many other species were licking, nuzzling, caressing, and more, long before we arrived—and in many ways their behaviors parallel ours, and often seem to serve a similar purpose.

From them, we find additional proof that however kissing originated, similar behaviors are shared not only among human cultures but across species—strong evidence that, despite all the variability, affectionate nibbling and muzzling may be rooted in our common evolutionary lineage with the rest of life on earth. These women recorded the onset of their periods, shift hours, and tip earnings for two months or some 5, lap dances , and the results were intriguing. Sheril Kirshenbaum. From a noted science journalist comes a wonderfully witty and fascinating exploration of how and why we kiss.

When did humans begin to kiss? Why is kissing integral to some cultures and alien to others? Do good kissers make the best lovers?


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