Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kissing as chemical analysis???

I'm somewhat bemused by this article from Reuters.

Researchers said kissing sets off a complex set of chemical reactions, and in some cases, a bad kiss could be the kiss of death for a burgeoning romance.

"A kiss is a mechanism for mate assessment," said Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey, who is presenting her findings on Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

Fisher, an anthropologist, told a news briefing that kissing is something more than 90 percent of human societies practice, but scientists are just beginning to understand the science of kissing, which is known as philematology.

One theory of kissing is that it is intended to promote bonding. Wendy Hill, a researcher at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania who is presenting her findings at the meeting, set out to test this on college students.

She was looking for changes specifically in oxytocin, a "love" hormone linked to feelings of sexual pleasure, bonding and maternal care. Since oxytocin has been known to lead to decreases in the stress hormone cortisol, she decided to look at that as well, she told reporters on Friday.

The researchers studied 15 heterosexual college couples between 18 to 22 who were assigned to either go off and kiss in a room in the college health center or just hold hands and talk to each other for 15 minutes.

Blood and saliva tests showed that men in the kissing group had a burst of oxytocin, but in women, levels of this hormone fell. "Cortisol levels for everyone declined," Hill said.

. . .

Fisher is taking a different approach in her research.

She has conducted a number of brain imaging studies and believes kissing can access any one of three primary brain systems used for mating and reproduction.

One is the sex drive, which is tied primarily with testosterone, she said. The second is romantic or passionate love, which she said motivates people to focus on one mate.

And the third is attachment, which helps couples stay together, at least long enough to rear a child.

Fisher said she thinks kissing activates different chemicals that stimulate these different regions of the brain.

"We do have evidence that saliva has testosterone in it. And there is also evidence that men like sloppier kisses, and more open-mouthed kisses. That suggests to me they are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to trigger the sex drive in women," said Fisher, who thinks kissing is just the tip of the iceberg.

"I think we will find all kinds of chemical systems are at play in courtship that we are not aware of," she said.

There's more at the link. I must admit, I'd find it difficult to disengage my mind from the immediate pleasure of kissing a loved one to think about what chemicals are flowing to and fro!

I wonder how much oxytocin and cortisol was being produced and/or reduced in Mexico City last Saturday?

Mexico City puckered up to set a new record Saturday as nearly 40,000 people locked lips in the city center for the world's largest group kiss.

Carlos Martinez of Guinness World Records verified the record of 39,897 people who entered the gated kissing area of the city's Zocalo main square on Valentine's Day, besting Weston-super-Mare, an English town that set the previous kissing record in 2007.

. . .

"More than 35,000 will simultaneously kiss to show that warmth and love are at the core of this capital, the heart of the Mexican Republic," the city's tourism department, which organized the gathering, said in a statement.

The event "is aimed at changing people's attitudes toward human relations, especially between couples, so that respect, equity and tolerance are at the center of any relationship," the statement said.

The giant Zocalo, which can hold 100,000 people, was half-filled as mostly young couples embraced and held one another in a lip lock for 10 seconds.

The kiss was delayed for several hours as organizers waited for people to gather.

As the crowd grew, city workers in cupid wings offered hugs, teenage boys carried signs volunteering their kissing services and couples practiced openly in a country that surprises many with its pervasive public displays of affection.

I had to laugh at one participant, who adopted a unique approach to the occasion (worthy, perhaps, of his own Doofus Of The Day award!):

Benito Zavala, 53, who works in a store nearby, said he didn't have time to go home to get his wife. So he planned to help set the record with his 2-year-old Chihuahua, Onix, who was licking his lips.

Kissing a chihuahua???

¡Yo quiero lipstick, dipstick!


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