for National Geographic News
It's that time of the year when romance is in the air and people everywhere are planning where and when to plant the perfect kiss: after a candlelit dinner at a fine restaurant, during a waltz on the dance floor, or in the privacy of their own home.
But one thing lovers have little control over is how they'll turn their heads when they go in for the kiss. Chances are they'll turn their heads to the right, according to a German psychologist who observed the head-tilting preferences of 124 kissing couples.
The psychologist, Onur Güntürkün of Ruhr-Universität-Bochum, is not so much a voyeur as he is a scientist trying to figure out why humans have a preference for their right side, which from kissing a lover to kicking a soccer ball is twice as popular as the left.
"We humans are right-footed, right-handed, right-eared, and right-eyed. I want to know why," he said.
Researchers have long known that human embryos and newborn babies have a preference to turn their heads to the right and it is conceivable, said Güntürkün, that this early bias is the root of other biases that occur later in life.
The problem is that the head-turning behavior of newborns is thought to disappear by the time they reach half a year old, long before humans develop a preference for one side of the body or the other.
Scientists believe that for a link to be established between head-turning and other side-preferences such as the eye, ear, and foot, there must be an overlap in time with the establishment of these preferences.
Güntürkün said he never believed that head-turning bias simply disappeared when a baby reached the age of six months and so he went in search of a way to test for a head-turning bias in human adults.
The search led him to airports, train stations, parks, and beaches in the United States, Turkey, and Germany. There, Güntürkün would pass the time looking for couples expressing their affections for each other.
"I tried to be as discrete as possible and I guess most couples didn't sense that they were observed," he said. "As soon as they had kissed, I walked away."
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