Tag Archives: Kissing

A kiss is not a kiss…

The authors of a new paper note that “one of the principal ways in which we interact using our faces is kissing.” This reminds me of an old National Lampoon joke on how the French were famous for inventing sex acts with the face. But I digress.

This paper looks at neural imaging responses of subjects who observe, in photographs, various kinds of kissing. The two main variables are who is kissing (by gender) and the nature of the kiss.

One of the authors is my friend and colleague, Sheril Kirshenbaum. She wrote the book on kissing. No, seriously, she wrote this book, which I’ve reviewed here.

From the abstract of the paper:

With a few exceptions, the literature on face recognition and its neural basis derives from the presentation of single faces. However, in many ecologically typical situations, we see more than one face, in different communicative contexts. … Although there is no obvious taxonomy of kissing, we kiss in various interpersonal situations (greeting, ceremony, sex), with different goals and partners. Here, we assess the visual cortical responses elicited by viewing different couples kissing with different intents. The study thus lies at the nexus of face recognition, action recognition, and social neuroscience. Magnetoencephalography data were recorded from nine participants in a passive viewing paradigm. We presented images of couples kissing, with the images differing along two dimensions, kiss type and couple type. We quantified event-related field amplitudes and latencies. In each participant, the canonical sequence of event-related fields was observed, including an M100, an M170, and a later M400 response. The earliest two responses were significantly modulated in latency (M100) or amplitude (M170) by the sex composition of the images (with male-male and female-female pairings yielding faster latency M100 and larger amplitude M170 responses). In contrast, kiss type showed no modulation of any brain response. The early cortical-evoked fields that we typically associate with the presentation and analysis of single faces are differentially sensitive to complex social and action information in face pairs that are kissing. The early responses, typically associated with perceptual analysis, exhibit a consistent grouping and suggest a high and rapid sensitivity to the composition of the kissing pairs.

Interesting research, part of the bigger picture of how human perception operates in an important social context. I asked Shiril Kirshenbaum for a quick comment and she told me that one of the most interesting parts of this work is “that usually we think of science writing as something that happens after research or discovery. But here we have a nice example demonstrating that the relationship can go both ways where new science has been driven by the storytelling.”


A kiss is not a kiss: visually evoked neuromagnetic fields reveal differential sensitivities to brief presentations of kissing couples. 2015. Cogan, Gregory, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Jeffry Walker, and David Poeppel. NeuroReport, August 18, 2015.

The Kiss

Valentine’s Day is coming up, so it is time to think about kissing. Pursuant to this, Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of “The Science of Kissing,” has made the Kindle version of her excellent book available at a discounted price through February 18th. The book is here: The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. (Sheril is also the co-author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future.)

The Science of Kissing Book Cover
The Science of Kissing
Further details as well as a video (don’t worry, it’s work safe) are here, on Sheril’s site.

Also pursuant to Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to repost my original review of Sheril’s book which comes with a story about a kiss:

The Kiss

I went out with a friend. We were both between relationships, and we both knew somehow that this was a date though it was never called a date. And we had a perfectly good time: Good food, good conversation, good drinks. She drove.

When it came time to go home, she drove me to the urban neighborhood I lived in and parked on the street near my house. As we were saying our good-byes, she enigmatically unhooked her seat belt. I wondered why. Then, I discovered that she wanted the freedom of movement to lean across the console and give me a kiss. It was a good kiss. It was actually a series of good kisses, and it went on for a while.

And suddenly, there was a loud rapping on the window of the car. We stopped kissing and that’s when we noticed that we had steamed up the windows a bit. So I cracked the window on which the rapping had occurred and there was a policeman staring in with his flashlight.
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