Every year, Harvard University hosts the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony which honors achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The awards are intended to celebrate the unusual - the improbable - and to honor the imaginative.
In 2015, geneticists Jaroslava Durdiaková and Peter Celec, were awarded the Medicine Prize to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing and other intimate, interpersonal activities. TEDxBrussels caught up with Jaroslava to unveil her discoveries and guess the role of kissing in the Deeper Future.
1/ How did you get involved with the science of kissing and romance?
I had no intention of studying kissing or romance in particular. The experiment on kissing was a sort of side effect caused by our research. That is how life usually goes. Good things always come as a coincidence; no planning involved. So that was my case. I was focusing on the role of testosterone on different aspects of human behavior and cognition. We were using saliva as a source of biological material and we came across a technical complication whilst analyzing female saliva samples. There seemed to be a male contamination without reasonable explanation. So my boss had the idea of assessing whether it was possible that male DNA could be transferred into female saliva after kissing, and how long it could persist. When he shared his idea with us, I was completely against this kind of experiment because - let’s face it - it sounded ridiculous. It took me almost a year to get started, but in the end it turned out to be my most enjoyable lab experience so far.
2/ Would you share with the TEDxBrussels community some of your recent/ongoing projects and discoveries?
One of our ongoing research deals with the question of whether testosterone can be considered a foundation of intellectual giftedness. In the population of gifted individuals we can find typical neurobiological characteristics. They are disproportionally not right handed. There is dominant right hemisphere activity and a higher incidence of language related disorders (dyslexia). The cerebral dominance theory claims that prenatal testosterone can affect brain morphology by inhibiting the growth of parts in the left hemisphere while stimulating the growth of corresponding parts in the right one. This atypical developmental trajectory can lead into right hemisphere dominance accompanied by extraordinary talent in spatial orientation, mental rotation or music. Yet, it can also lead to language-related problems often common to gifted populations. We found out that gifted boys seemed to be exposed to stronger testosterone priming prenatally. This can affect the brain morphology and lead into reduced ability to read the mental state or emotions that are mirrored in one´s eyes.
In the field of romance, our findings reports that men with lower testosterone levels display more romantic love style in interpersonal relationships.
3/ What would your "dream" discovery be if anything was possible?
I guess, every scientist dreams of unveiling something groundbreaking, something that will dramatically change the world. Me being no exception. My childhood dream was to save the world and it still is somewhere deep inside me. Even though I know it is not quite possible I would love to have the power to find a cure for every illness. Imagine a world in which we could simply take a pill and diagnosis such as cancer or autoimmune diseases would be instantly gone. I would simply love that!
4/ What about the role of kissing in the Deeper Future?
Kissing will always be a part of our lives. A very enjoyable and pleasant part of being a human being. It is something programmed in our nature, which originates when we are just babies. Kisses come in many varieties and accompany the most meaningful and significant moments of our lives.
It might seem that these days, the real, genuine, face-to-face human interaction is being increasingly replaced by virtual contact, characterized by a lack of eye contact, holding of one´s hand, empathy, and human spirit. We often experience that the partner’s choice is no longer based exclusively on pure biology and chemistry. Honestly, I find this quite scary. I often ask myself what the future will bring, but I personally believe that the kiss will survive, no matter how much our lives will be affected by technical conveniences. It will always reveal important clues about our potential partners, about their levels of commitment and their genetic suitability for us. We just need to listen to our own bodies in order to provide a means to communicate beyond words.
Interview by Jakub Rusek.