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Anthropology in Practice

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Sheril Kirshenbaum on Why We Kiss

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Sheril Kirshenbaum, science writer and author of The Science of Kissing, has an interesting discussion on why we kiss and how kisses work to stimulate chemistry between two people:

A kiss puts two people in very close proximity. Our sense of smell allows us to pick up subconscious clues about the other person’s DNA or reproductive status. Biologist Claus Wedekind found that women are most attracted to the scent of men who have a very different genetic code for their immune system in a region of DNA known as the major histocompatibility complex. Pairing off with a male who has a different set of genes for immunity can lead to children that will have a higher level of genetic diversity, making them healthier and more likely to survive. (However, it’s important to note that women who take the birth control pill exhibit the opposite preference.) So even though we may not be consciously aware of it, we use behaviors like kissing to judge whether to take a relationship further, based on genetic evidence. In this manner, it’s fair to say that the act of kissing serves as nature’s litmus test.

You can read the entire piece here. It’s a great quick read for your afternoon—which will hopefully include a kiss at some point.

Krystal D'Costa About the Author: Krystal D'Costa is an anthropologist working in digital media in New York City. You can follow AiP on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @krystaldcosta.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. zstansfi 3:16 pm 11/12/2011

    “Pairing off with a male who has a different set of genes for immunity can lead to children that will have a higher level of genetic diversity, making them healthier and more likely to survive. (However, it’s important to note that women who take the birth control pill exhibit the opposite preference.)”

    Having read some of the studies which postulate these effects, I have to say that this is overstated. Perhaps a greater proportion of women prefer a mate who has a different MHC class than themselves. And perhaps a slightly greater proportion of women taking the birth control pill have the opposite preference. However, overall, the impact of MHC class on mating preferences in the real world is unlikely to have much of an effect given the numerous other, more important, determinants of mate preference.

    Link to this

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