Why do we kiss with our eyes closed? This, surely, is one of the modern age’s great unanswered questions. Apart from the fact that it might put off your amorous partner if you keep your eyes constantly open as you smooch, a potential answer may reside within a new study on human senses.
This particular study, published today in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, concludes that the awareness of our sense of touch depends on the perceptual load at the time – that is, how much information our eyes are having to take in for our brains to process. This means that we sometimes close our eyes in order to amplify our sense of touch.
The media at large have generally taken this to mean that we close our eyes during kissing in order to focus on the task at hand. Unfortunately, there’s one major problem with this: The study actually has nothing to do with kissing.
During the study, participants were assigned various visual tasks, and their sense of touch was measured at the same time. While the subjects had to complete letter-searching tasks of varying difficulty, they also had to respond to small vibrations that were being applied to one of their hands.
The researchers noted that their awareness of the vibrations decreased as their eyes were forced to work harder to complete the tasks, suggesting that our sense of touch is diminished when our eyes are taking in the world around them with increasing focus.
“These results could explain why we close our eyes when we want to focus attention on another sense,” said Dr. Polly Dalton, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, reported The Independent. “Shutting out the visual input leaves more mental resources to focus on other aspects of our experience.”
This conclusion was enough to cause many to conclude that this applies to kissing, but the study doesn’t mention the act once.
In fact, the researchers were more focused on cars providing “tactile alerts,” those that alert you to danger by using vibrations, not flashing lights. Their findings imply that these warnings may go ignored if the driver’s eyes are intensely focused on the road ahead.
So for now, in terms of making out with your eyes closed, it might be best to consider the question unanswered.
While some people are naturally better than others at multitasking, research has shown that we are all vulnerable to distractions to some degree. According to a 2015 study conducted by researchers from Brown University, subtle and minor distractions may cause more damage than more obvious ones. For example, in the study the team observed how various visual distractions interrupted volunteers from completing the easy task of clicking on a specific icon. Results showed that the volunteers’ actions were more heavily compromised when they were presented with small visual distractions, as opposed to larger more obvious distractions.
Beyond this glimpse into the science behind kissing, the study cements the idea that distractions can seriously take away from our ability to complete the task at hand. So, once again, when engaging in something as serious as driving or walking along a busy road, it’s best to focus all your attention to the task at hand.
Murphy S, Dalton P. Out of Touch? Visual Load Induces Inattentional Numbness.Journal of Experimental Psychology 2016
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