7/6/12 The science behind a kiss

A kiss unites two people by love or pleasure, but what most people don’t realize is the actual science behind that kiss.

Today is International Kissing Day, which started in the United Kingdom and has recently been adopted globally. Justin Lehmiller, a Harvard professor of psychology and a Purdue alumnus, has conducted research on the science behind a kiss. Research has found each kiss releases chemicals to the brain that signals the kisser to kiss more in reaction to the pleasure that comes with it.

“People kiss because it is a highly pleasurable activity,” Lehmiller wrote in an email. “Kissing releases ‘pleasure chemicals’ in the brain, namely dopamine.”

Dopamine is a chemical released from the brain that causes pleasure. It can either be created unnaturally by using illicit substances such as marijuana or heroin or by rewarding activities such as eating or kissing.

“Hence the reason some people say passionate kisses are ‘like a drug.’” Lehmiller said. “And because kisses can create such intensely pleasurable feelings, it keeps bringing people back for more.”

Kissing is a cultural norm in terms of a relationship, so could science be a reason people come back for more? Maybe so, and according to Gen Zaroura, a clinical social worker and therapist in Lafayette, the endorphins released during kissing and intimacy create a happier, more stabilized relationship.

“Kissing and affection is important in a relationship,” Zaroura said. “It connects people emotionally. It can also release endorphins that can make you feel more excited and happy ... It can affect the biochemistry immediately.”

The endorphins cause the body to feel intimate emotions while affection is taking place. While kissing may stimulate these endorphins for some relationships, there are a variety of activities that serve the same purpose for different couples.

“If their both willing participants in the activities, their bodies release endorphins and are happier and more connected with each other,” Zaroura said. “Be open with your significant other. Intimate touching and hugging, different people have different love languages. For one person it could be a physical effect, for another, it could be an act of service ... It’s about meeting the other persons needs.”

The science behind the kiss and physical affection can be a factor that is never realized in a relationship. Though affection may be a part of most relationships, Lehmiller said that it isn’t just about our biology that creates affection.

“Of course, kissing isn’t purely driven by our biology,” Lehmiller said. “We also kiss because it is a socially learned behavior and a way that we try to show our feelings to someone else.”

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