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All In Your Head

aybala50's picture

Striving to find a “soul-mate” is a common goal amongstmany people. The

soul mate a person looks for has to be compatible in manyways and at least to me

the most important factor in a person is his or herpersonality. People fall in love

with a person’s ‘self’, with whom they are inside, or atleast this is what I used to

believe. After some research and from what I’ve gatheredfrom class, the process of

finding a ‘soul-mate’, I would argue, is a biologicalprocess.

      An innocent peck on the lips by herprince awakes the princess from her

sleep. The magical kiss from this classic fairy tale,“Sleeping Beauty”, awakens in

most people the importance of a simple kiss. Most humansstrive to find someone

they can have for them selves, to love and to kiss.Kissing is one of the most intimate

acts a person can participate in and by many people it isconsidered more intimate

than any other acts of intimacy such as holding hands oreven sex. When one finds

the right person to kiss there is an exchange of scent,texture, taste and most

importantly emotion (Walter 1).  People strive for intimacy and this is why there is

an innate need for kisses.

      In The Kiss by Christopher Nyrop thedifficulty of defining the meaning

behind a kiss is stated, “It seems to me even to offercertain points of interests,

inasmuch as it is by no means so easy as people mayimagine to define what a kiss

is” (3).  Inthe body, a kiss triggers signals that go to the brain. These signals

transmit messages of sexual excitement, motivation,feeling of closeness, and

euphoria (Walter 1). These are characteristics that makea kiss as magical as it can

be. What about bad kisses? A bad kiss can end arelationship before it even begins.

This could be because the chemicals released by the twopeople aren’t attracted to

each other. So, the romantic view of a kiss can be acomplete misconception. Going

back to Emily Dickinson’s idea of a person’s braincontrolling everything, this idea

can now include an act as intimate as a kiss. We like tobelieve that one feels with

the heart or a soul, and thinks with the brain. Thebiological activity observed with

kissing says otherwise.

      In a study done with collegestudents about the evolutionary perspective of

sex differences in romantic kissing, the results showedthat females place a greater

emphasis on kissing as a mate assessment device (Gallup).If we consider kissing as

a biological act then this evolutionary perspective makessense. People kiss to

determine if there is a future with the selected mate. Ifthe chemical exchange

during the act of kissing isn’t satisfactory, the personwill move on to find someone

else to mate with in order to pass his or her genes tothe next generation.

      In this same experiment by Gallup,Harrison and Hughes, a survey about the

importance of a person’s breath while trying to decide tokiss them or not or to

continue kissing them showed that both sexes consider aperson’s breath in this

decision. Though females value this factor more thanmales, both sexes dislike the

idea of kissing someone with very bad breath (Gallup). Areasonable assumption

could be that the bad breath is interfering with thechemicals that attract each other

on the lips. Hence while the chemicals might want to kisseach other, the bad breath

might be stimulating the parts of the brain that arerepulsed.

      In another survey participants wereasked if they would consider having sex

with someone without kissing taking place. Over half themale participants said they

would, while only one in seven females said they would(Gallup). This is another

indication of how important kisses are in intimate actsand at the same time

emphasizes the importance of getting to know a personbiologically and

neurologically before participating in an act that canresult in reproduction.

      Focusing more on the brain aspect ofkissing, it makes sense that kissing

someone results in a large number of neurons firing allover the brain. The lips are

densely populated with sensory receptors, which explainwhy so many neurons

work in the act of kissing. These neurons, sensoryreceptors, and brain activity in

general are the reasons for a kiss ending up good or bad,not how romantic the

environment is or whether it’s a dream kiss under therain.

      In Emily Dickinson’s poem TheBrain—is wider than the Sky – the importance

of the brain is emphasized. As the title indicates,Dickinson gives the human brain

enough power to imagine up the sky and the whole worldand everyone in it. “For—

Put them side by side/ The one the other will contain/With ease—and You—

beside.” Dickinson encompasses in this poem the power ofthe brain. Dickinson

would agree that the signals going to the brain from thesensory receptors on lips

are the reason for a person believing that they feelemotions towards the person,

almost as if the kiss is magical, like in a fairy tale.

      So, a kiss is a complex biologicalprocess that can result in either liking or

disliking of a person. This decision of like or dislikeof a kiss is determined by the

message sent to the brain by sensory receptors on thelips, not a fairy tale romantic

story. But, does it really matter? In the fairy tale, thekiss happened, more or less, the

same way it would or should have in real life, at leastbiologically speaking. So the

fairy tale kiss was great though biological, and therereally isn’t a reason why a

purely biological rather than an emotional kiss can’t beenjoyed just as much it is in

the fairy tale.


Work Cited

Gallup, Gordon; Harrison, Marissa; Hughes, Susan. “SexDifferences in Romantic

Kissing Among College Students: An EvolutionaryPerspective.” Evolutionary

Psychology. 2007. 612-617. Epjournal. Feb 20, 2009.



Nyrop, Christopher. The Kiss.  London, 1901.


Walter, Chip. “Affairs of the Lips.” Scientific AmericanMind February/March 2008: 



Paul Grobstein's picture

neurobiology of kissing

My bet is that there is more to it than "sensory receptors on the lips." Surely the "smell" relates to sensory receptors elsewhere. So where then is the magic, the emotion?