10 Scientific Benefits of Kissing

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Kissing may be the most primal way we express affection with other humans. We kiss babies on their adorable chubby faces, friends on the cheeks, and lovers on the lips in demonstration of our feelings and desire for closeness. Kissing may be one of the earliest evolutionary mechanisms for social bonding. While there are plenty of obvious pleasures of smooching, there are also some remarkable health benefits, backed by science. Check out these 10 benefits of lip smacking:

1. KISSING RELEASES FEEL-GOOD HORMONES …

Kissing activates the brain’s reward system, releasing neurotransmitters like oxytocin, "the love hormone," and vasopressin, which bonds mothers with babies and romantic partners to each other. It also releases endogenous opioids, dopamine, and other helpful neurohormones to keep our moods balanced.

2. … WHICH HAVE HEALING ABILITIES.

A 2005 study in Neuroendocrinology Letters adds, "Thus, love, pleasure, and lust have a stress-reducing and health-promoting potential, since they carry the ability to heal or facilitate beneficial motivation and behavior." In other words, by reducing your stress hormones, your body can better focus on healing any physiological processes that are exacerbated by stress, and help contribute to more positive mental health and behavior.

3. IT MAKES YOU MORE ALERT.

Kissing often stimulates the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline—not only do these make you feel excited by increasing your heart rate, they make you more alert, as your body prepares for action…of any kind.

4. SMOOCH MORE FOR REDUCED STRESS …

According to affection exchange theory, as mentioned in a 2009 study in the Western Journal of Communication [PDF], physical exchanges of affection, including kissing, "buffer the individual against the physiological effects of stress." The researchers found that expressed affection, of which kissing is a prime example, was directly related to lowering the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day.

5. … WHICH MIGHT HAVE A POSITIVE AFFECT ON YOUR CHOLESTEROL.

The same study authors theorize that if affectionate behavior reduces stress, "then it is logical to predict that it will also effect improvements on physiological parameters that are exacerbated by stress" such as cholesterol. Cholesterol has a number of essential physiological functions, they write, "including maintaining membrane fluidity, producing bile, and contributing to the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins." It’s also "largely responsible" for the production of steroid hormones, such as cortisol, aldosterone, progesterone, the estrogens, and testosterone.

6. KISSING EVEN IMPROVES ALLERGY SYMPTOMS …

Allergic responses can be aggravated by stress. Since kissing reduces stress by sending those feel-good hormones mentioned earlier to the brain, as well as alleviating cortisol, a 2003 Japanese study in Physiology and Behavior explored the relationship between the stress-lowering activity of kissing on allergic reactions. Ninety participants were evenly divided into three groups: 30 with atopic dermatitis, 30 with allergic rhinitis, and 30 in a control group. In the study, the subjects, whom the authors noted "do not kiss habitually," kissed for 30 minutes with their partner in a private room while listening to soft music. They found that at the end of their smooch sessions, the participants experienced significant relief from skin wheals (hives) and plasma neurotrophin levels (a sign of allergic reaction) associated with Japanese cedar pollen and house dust mites. In 2015, this study won an Ig Nobel prize.

7. … AND MIGHT ALSO BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY.

When you kiss someone on the lips you exchange bacteria. This can either make you sick, or it can help boost your immunity by exposing you to new germs that strengthen your immune system's ability to fight these bacteria. A 2014 study in the journal Microbiome found that couples who kissed frequently were more likely to share the same microbiota in their saliva and on the surface of the tongue. How frequently? At least nine times per day.

8. A KISS A DAY KEEPS THE DENTIST AWAY?

The act of kissing stimulates your salivary glands to produce saliva, the fluid that moistens the mouth to make swallowing easier. Saliva also helps remove cavity-causing particles that stick in your teeth after eating. So while it might be a stretch to say kissing prevents cavities, it can’t hurt.

9. IT MAY HELP YOU DETERMINE THE COMPATIBILITY OF YOUR MATE …

Perhaps the way you know you’ve found the one has nothing to do with their eyes, kind words, or the way they romance you, but very subtle cues you pick up through kissing. According to a 2013 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, kissing "might facilitate the subconscious appraisal of a potential mate by utilizing pheromonal cues to assess genetic … compatibility, general health, underlying genetic fitness or menstrual cycle phase and fertility." (Note the "might" here—we still haven't found evidence of human pheromones.) In fact, the authors write, in a handful of societies where mouth-to-mouth partner contact is unknown or frowned upon, such as the Mehinaku of Brazil (in fact, only 46 percent of cultures are known to kiss romantically), romantic partners still engage in "kissing traditions of close face-to-face contact involving sniffing, licking or rubbing."

10. … AND IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION.

The same study authors suggest that romantic kissing, as well as other forms of physical contact, can strengthen feelings of attachment to the person you're kissing, increasing the feeling of relationship satisfaction between romantic partners. And a 2013 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that more frequent kissing was linked to couples’ perceived feelings about the quality of a relationship—namely, the more kissing, the happier they were—which was not the case for more sex.

9 Not-So-Pesky Facts About Termites

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iStock.com/Thithawat_s

Termites get a lot of hate for chewing through buildings, but the little creatures are far more interesting—and ecologically valuable—than we often give them credit for. Unless, of course, you’re Lisa Margonelli, the author of Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, a new book that explores their amazing world. Here are nine facts about the highly social—and occasionally pesky—insects that we learned from the book.

1. THERE ARE FAR MORE TERMITES THAN PEOPLE ON EARTH.

Termite queens live up to 25 years, and can lay somewhere around 30,000 eggs a day. As a result, a single mound can be home to millions of individuals at a time. While the numbers vary from study to study, scientists estimate that the biomass of all the termites in the world is at least as great as that of humans.

2. MOST TERMITES AREN’T PESTS.

Of the 2800 named termite species in the world, the majority have no interest in eating your house. Only 28 species are known to chow down on buildings and infrastructure. Most are actually very beneficial to their ecosystems, clearing dead wood, aerating the soil with their intricate tunnel systems, and enhancing plant growth. Researchers have found that contrary to being pests, networks of termite mounds can help make dry environments like savannas more resilient to climate change because of the way termite mounds store nutrients and moisture, among other benefits.

3. TERMITES ARE GOOD FOR CROPS.

Termites can help make soil more fertile. In one study, researchers in Australia found that fields that were home to ants and termites produced 36 percent more wheat, without fertilizer, compared to non-termite fields. Why? Termites help fertilize the soil naturally—their poop, which they use to plaster their tunnels, is full of nitrogen. Their intricate system of underground tunnels also helps rainfall penetrate the soil more deeply, which reduces the amount of moisture that evaporates from the dirt and makes it more likely that the water can be taken up by plants.

4. TERMITES HAVE VERY SPECIFIC ROLES IN THEIR COLONY.

Each termite colony has a queen and king termite (or several), plus workers and soldiers. This caste system, controlled by pheromones produced by the reigning queen, determines not just what different termites do in the colony but how they look. Queens and kings develop wings that, when they’re sexually mature, they use to fly away from their original nest to reproduce and start their own colony. Once they land at the site of their new colony, queens and kings snap off these wings, since they’ll spend the rest of their lives underground. Queens are also physically much larger than other castes: The largest type of termite, an African species called Macrotermes bellicosus, produces queens up to 4 inches long.

Unlike their royal counterparts, most workers and soldiers don’t have either eyes or wings. Worker termites, which are responsible for foraging, building tunnels, and feeding the other castes in the nest, are significantly smaller than queens. M. bellicosus workers, for instance, measure around 0.14 inches. Soldier termites are slightly bigger than workers, with large, sharp mandibles designed to slice up ants and other enemies that might invade the nest.

5. TERMITES ARE ONE OF THE FASTEST ANIMALS IN THE WORLD.

Apologies to cheetahs, but termites hold the record for world’s fastest animal movement. Panamanian termites can clap their mandibles shut at 157 miles per hour. (Compare that to the cheetah’s run, which tops out at about 76 miles per hour.) This quick action allows tiny termite soldiers in narrow tunnels to kill invaders with a single bite.

6. TERMITES ARE SKILLED ARCHITECTS.

In Namibia, quarter-inch-long termites of the genus Macrotermes can move 364 pounds of dirt and 3300 pounds of water each year total in the course of building their 17-foot-tall mounds. Relative to their size, that’s the equivalent of humans building the 163 floors of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, no cranes required. And that’s not even the tallest termite mound around—some can be up to 30 feet high. More impressively, termites cooperate to build these structures without any sort of centralized plan. Engineers are now trying to replicate this decentralized swarm intelligence to build robots that could erect buildings in a similar fashion.

7. TERMITES BUILD THEIR OWN AIR CONDITIONING.

Some termites have developed an incredibly efficient method of climate control in the form of tall, above-ground mounds that sit above their nests. Organized around a central chimney, the structures essentially act as giant lungs, "breathing" air in and out as the temperature outside changes in relation to the temperature inside. Thanks to these convection cycles, termites keep underground temperatures in their nest between roughly 84°F and 90°F.

8. TERMITES ARE FARMERS.

Humans aren’t the only ones cultivating crops. Termites farm, too. They’ve been doing it for more than 25 million years, compared to humans’ 23,000 years. Some species of termite have evolved a symbiotic relationship with Termitomyces fungi, growing fungus in underground gardens for food. When they fly off to create a new colony, termite queens bring along fungus spores from their parent colony to seed the garden that will feed their new nest. Foraging termite workers go out and eat plant material that they can’t fully digest on their own, then deposit their feces on the fungus for it to feed on. They can then eat the fungus. They may also be able to eat some of the plant material after the fungus has sufficiently broken it down. The mutually beneficial relationship has led some scientists to suggest that the fungus, which is much larger in both size and energy production than the termites, could in fact be the one in control of the relationship, potentially releasing chemical pheromones that lead the termites to build the mound they live in together.

9. TERMITES ARE MICROBIAL GOLD MINES.

As scientists begin to understand the huge role that micobiomes play in both the human body and the rest of the world, termites provide a fascinating case study. About 90 percent of the organisms in termite guts aren’t found anywhere else on Earth. In their hindgut alone, they host as many as 1400 species of bacteria. These microbes are so efficient at converting the cellulose-rich wood and dead grass that termites eat into energy, scientists want to harness them to make biofuel from plants.

Want to learn more about termites? Get yourself a copy of Underbug on Amazon for $18.

This Live Stream Lets You Eavesdrop on Endangered Killer Whales' Conversations

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iStock.com/Serega

Southern resident killer whales, which are usually found off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, are an endangered species. If you're lucky, though, you might be able to hear a pod of the killer whales chattering away from the comfort of your own home. A website spotted by The Kansas City Star lets you live stream the calls of killer whales from your phone or laptop. Dubbed Orcasound, it uses hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up oceanic sounds from two areas off the coast of Washington.

On the website, listeners can choose between the two locations. One is the Orcasound Lab in Haro Strait, which is situated off the coast of Washington's San Juan Islands—the "summertime habitat" of this specific ecotype of whale, according to the website. The other location is Bush Point at the entrance to Puget Sound, where the whales pass through about once a month in search of salmon. However, that hydrophone is currently being repaired.

So what do orcas sound like? They're loud, and they do a whole lot of whistling, whining, and clicking. You can hear a snippet of what that sounds like in a four-minute podcast uploaded to the Orcasound site.

There’s no guarantee you’ll hear an orca, though. "Mostly you'll hear ships," the website notes, but there's also a chance you'll hear humpbacks in the fall and male harbor seals in the summer.

The live stream isn't just for educational purposes. It also serves as a citizen science project to help researchers continue their studies of southern resident killer whales, which are in danger of starvation as Chinook salmon, their main food source, die off.

The makers of Orcasound are urging listeners to email ihearsomething@orcasound.net anytime they hear killer whales or "other interesting sounds." They can also log their observations in a shared Google spreadsheet. Eventually, developers of the site hope to roll out a button that listeners can click when they hear a whale, to make the process easier for people to get involved.

[h/t The Kansas City Star]

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