Saturday, February 14, 2009

A kiss to build a dream on

It's still the same old story--but a kiss is not just a kiss.

For men, it's a chance to assess a woman's fertility. For both men and women, it's a chance to screen a potential mate.

Here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, researchers said that kissing is related not only to sex, but also to romantic love and attachment--by virtue of the changes it produces in the brain.

The sex drive encourages us to seek out partners. Romantic love encourages us to focus on one of 'em. And attachment keeps us around to rear the child that might be the product of romantic love. It's all about reproduction, and kissing is a vital tool.

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has taken the research a step further by asking the question: Why do we want to kiss some people and not others?

She has identified four different temperments, each linked to a different hormone or neurotransmitter in the brain. "These chemical systems do make a different in mate choice," she said.

The difference can be felt almost instantaneously, she said. In roughly two-thirds of men and women, the first kiss can kill the relationship. The explanation, in Fisher's view, is that it tells the partners, unconsciously, that the person they're kissing is not a good choice.

She also believes that romantic love can last a long time "...if you kiss the right person."

To me, this is another example of how behaviors that we might think are a product of our social or cultural environment are deeply rooted in evolution and biology.

What we know is that we kiss because we like it. What Fisher and others are telling us is that we kiss because we must.

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