Kissing: It really is all about chemistry

Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:47pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Valentine Lotharios beware: There's a lot riding on a kiss, new studies on the science of smooching suggest.

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.   Continued...

<p>A Filipino couple kiss during a rally before marching towards the Hungarian embassy in Makati's financial district of Manila January 24, 2007, as a sign of their determination to regain the 'Kiss festival' record. REUTERS/Joseph Agcaoili</p>