Why We Close Our Eyes When We Kiss

We have a hard time focusing on tactile and visual senses at the same time.


Forget the crescendo and the wind machine — what really makes a kiss epic is not watching it happen. Look at any couple smooching and you’ll see that, more often than not, their eyes are scrunched tight. New research reveals that this isn’t just learned romantic behavior: Our brains know that if we want to truly enjoy the experience, we have to try to turn off our other senses.

Researchers Sandra Murphy and Polly Dalton of the University of London recently published a paper on the subject in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Because the world is so sensory driven that we can’t possibly perceive everything around us simultaneously, Murphy and Dalton investigated whether selective attention would cause us to prioritize different information, such as choosing to focus on the tactile nature of a kiss versus looking at your partner’s mug.

The psychologists ended up finding the first robust demonstration of “in-attentional numbness” — the moment when the awareness of experiencing a tactile event is lessened because other senses still have some of your attention.

Murphy and Dalton’s experiment actually didn’t involve their participants kissing. Instead, participants performed visual tasks while attempting to simultaneously detect a vibration at their hands. As the visual tasks became more difficult, the participants became worse and worse at sensing the vibrations. This led the researchers to conclude that blocking visual input provides the brain power necessary to experience other senses.

The research supports the conclusion that people close their eyes when they kiss for the same reasons. “These results could explain why we close our eyes when we want to focus attention on another sense,” Dalton told The Sunday Times. “Shutting out the visual input leaves more mental resources to focus on other aspects of our experience.”

While it’s fun to think about how our brains are unconsciously working to make our make-outs better, Murphy and Dalton have bigger plans for their research. Namely, they think it can be applied to the tech designs for cars and aircrafts. An increasing amount of these machines are incorporating tactile warning information, otherwise known as haptic feedback.

The new research comes with the implication that haptic feedback may not be altogether that useful as is — the warning buzz we feel in the driving wheel could reduce our ability to visually perceive what’s going on in the road.

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