You know that thing that happens when you kiss someone?
You lean in and your eyes just close, naturally and magically when your lips get to working.
Well now we know why.
Psychologists have just published findings that pretty much clear up why people close their eyes when they kiss someone. Yes, it’s the question that’s probably haunted some of you since you first puckered up, while others may have just taken it for granted. Consider this mystery solved.
Two cognitive psychologists, Polly Dalton and Sandra Murphy, recently published their findings on vision and tactile sensory experience in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. They found that people are remarkably bad at dealing with more than two things at once. So, to focus better on the task in front of us, we close our eyes before we kiss.
The study, undertaken at the Royal Holloway University of London, found that the human brain struggles when trying to process more than one sense at a time, particularly when focusing on visual stimuli. Or in the words of the researchers:
“Tactile [sense of touch] awareness depends on the level of perceptual load in a concurrent task.”
Interestingly, the study actually didn’t just put a whole heap of people in a room and have them snog it out. In fact there was absolutely no lip locking at all during the study. Instead participants were given a visual task to complete while their sensitivity to tactile sensations was measured. So the people being studied were asked to complete letter-searching tasks with a variety of difficulties while at the same time their response to small vibrations applied to their hands was measured.
What the study found was that as people did more work with their eyes, they were less responsive to the tactile stimulation. So this means that as well as kissing people tend to close their eyes when they’re experiencing something else tactile, like sex or dancing. Polly Dalton, one of the researchers, summarised for The Independent:
“Shutting out the visual input leaves more mental resources to focus on other aspects of our experience.”
Or, when something feels good on our bodies, we don’t want to mess around getting distracted by other senses.
What This Means
You might be sitting here reading this and thinking, this study is a little pointless, but it’s not as pointless as you think. The researchers behind the study noted that the conclusions had broader implications beyond just knowing about kissing. Dr. Sandra Murphy, the other researcher, said:
“It was already known that increasing the demands of a visual task could reduce noticing of visual and auditory stimuli.”
“Our research extends this finding to the sense of touch. This is particularly important given the growing use of tactile information in warning systems.”
Some modern cars and aeroplanes provide tactile alerts as a part of warning systems. However, as both driving and flying require such a high level of visual concentration this research suggests that those at the helm are less likely to notice those alerts. It’s a useful finding in making both cars and planes safer for those that use them.
Riddle Me This?
Now the only question is if this study explains the other random instances where the brain cannot deal with more than one sense at a time. For example, when mum is trying to chop vegetables and can’t focus because her children won’t stop bickering, or when you smell something good and then turn the music down so you can smell it better. Yep, that happens.
Ok, maybe this study doesn’t explain that, but it’s still pretty cool to have a reason why we do something that, for the most part, we just can’t stop. Unlike closing our eyes when we sneeze, closing our eyes for kissing is something that can be overridden, but we always find ourselves closing them back again, happy to just enjoy the experience!