A kiss is not just a kiss

Sci­ence re­veals how Bog­art and Bergman didn’t get it right in Casablanca

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE -

Hu­mans are hard-wired to favour lean­ing to the right while kiss­ing ro­man­tic part­ners, an in­ter­na­tional study by psy­chol­o­gists and neu­ro­sci­en­tists has found.

The re­search, by the uni­ver­si­ties of Dhaka, Bath and Bath Spa, also found that re­cip­i­ents of kisses had a ten­dency to match their part­ners’ head-lean­ing di­rec­tion.

Ex­perts built on work from western coun­tries to in­ves­ti­gate kiss­ing be­hav­iours in a non-western con­text, in­clud­ing a bias for turn­ing the head to one side.

Their work, pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Re­ports, stud­ied 48 mar­ried cou­ples in Bangladesh, where ro­man­tic kiss­ing is not typ­i­cally ob­served in pub­lic.

Cou­ples were asked to kiss pri­vately in their homes, then in­de­pen­dently re­port back on var­i­ous as­pects of the kiss. Men were about 15 times more likely to ini­ti­ate kiss­ing than women, and both part­ners showed a bias for turn­ing their heads to the right.

Dr Rezaul Karim, from the de­part­ment of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Dhaka, said: “This is the first study to show sex dif­fer­ences in the ini­ti­a­tion of kiss­ing, with males more likely be­ing the ini­tia­tor, and also that the kiss ini­tia­tors’ head-turn­ing di­rec­tion tends to mod­u­late the head­turn­ing di­rec­tion in the kiss re­cip­i­ents.”

The study found that more than twothirds of kiss ini­tia­tors and kiss re­cip­i­ents turned their heads to the right. Men ac­counted for 79% of the kiss ini­tia­tors.

A per­son be­ing left- or right-handed pre­dicted their head-lean­ing di­rec­tion if they ini­ti­ated the kiss. The head-lean­ing di­rec­tion of the ini­tia­tor also strongly pre­dicted the head-lean­ing di­rec­tion of the re­cip­i­ent. This sug­gests re­cip­i­ents tend to match their part­ners’ di­rec­tion to avoid the dis­com­fort of mir­ror­ing heads.

“This fur­ther sug­gests the un­der­ly­ing cog­ni­tive mech­a­nisms of the act of kiss­ing and head turn­ing,” the au­thors said. “Though this ac­tion tends to be per­formed in­tu­itively, a de­ci­sion must be made about the di­rec­tion to which the part­ners should lean to kiss each other.”

Kiss­ing in Bangladesh is pri­vate and cen­sored from tele­vi­sion or film, pre­clud­ing the in­flu­ence of cul­tural fac­tors such as copy­ing ac­tors, they added. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have in­volved cou­ples kiss­ing in pub­lic places such as air­ports or sta­tions.

Dr Michael Proulx, from the de­part­ment of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Bath, said: “This study is unique in giv­ing us a look into a pri­vate be­hav­iour in a pri­vate cul­ture with im­pli­ca­tions for all peo­ple. Prior works could not rule out cul­tural learn­ing due to hav­ing western sam­ples. It turns out, we as hu­mans are sim­i­lar even if our so­cial val­ues dif­fer.”

The re­search sug­gests the act of kiss­ing is in­flu­enced by the way the brain di­vides tasks be­tween its hemi­spheres, with the emo­tion and de­ci­sion-re­lated ar­eas of the brain in the left cere­bral hemi­sphere. Hor­mone lev­els, such as testos­terone, might be un­evenly dis­trib­uted in each hemi­sphere, caus­ing a bias to turn right.

It is hoped the find­ings will feed into fur­ther stud­ies of neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms of such be­hav­iours.

Ge­orge Pep­pard and Au­drey Hep­burn kiss in the film Break­fast at Tif­fany’s

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