Applied Anthropology

Why do people kiss?
Answered by Bambi Turner
  • Bambi Turner

    Bambi Turner

  1. Yes, there's even a scientific basis to kissing -- and to explaining why we kiss. In what's called a "psychobiosocial approach," researchers study how psychological and biological factors combine to explain why people or animals behave the way they do. The concept of kissing may be linked with the good feelings people inherently attach to feeding as infants. For very young children, nursing or suckling is not only a way to get food, but also a critical bonding time between parent and child. Infants rely on their lips, mouths and tongues to drink formula or breast milk, but perhaps equally important, the action represents security, affection and comfort for both parties. As you grow, you remember the pleasure of these early memories, leading to a strong subconscious association between the mouth and feelings of love and attachment [source: Tiefer].

    Some animals nurse and others feed their growing young by passing chewed food from their mouths into their babies' mouths. Even animals may form an association between the mouth and feelings of pleasure, which leads to their own form of kissing. Dogs and cats may lick and groom one another as a sign of friendship, or as a means of bonding. Lions, seals and even reptiles may gently butt foreheads, nip at one another's necks or rub cheeks to show affection or romance.

    Perhaps the greatest evidence of the psychobiosocial theory of kissing lies in the relationships between bonobo monkeys, which share 98.7 percent of their DNA with humans. Baby bonobos get nourishment from their parents, who feed them using a mouth-to-mouth technique. As they grow, the bonobos frequently kiss one another to ease tensions or reconcile after disagreements. They also may kiss as a sign of friendship, or even during the mating process.

    In addition to the psychological and biological causes of kissing -- or perhaps because of them -- the human brain releases powerful pleasure chemicals as people kiss. Kissing a new partner stimulates dopamine production, which creates a sense of desire and excitement. As people kiss the same partner over time, the brain releases oxytocin instead, which helps to instill a sense of bonding and attachment [source: World SciTech].

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