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A kiss is not a kiss: visually evoked neuromagnetic fields reveal differential sensitivities to brief presentations of kissing couples

Cogan, Gregory B.; Kirshenbaum, Sheril R.; Walker, Jeffrey; Poeppel, David

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000435

With a few exceptions, the literature on face recognition and its neural basis derives from the presentation of single faces. However, in many ecologically typical situations, we see more than one face, in different communicative contexts. One of the principal ways in which we interact using our faces is kissing. Although there is no obvious taxonomy of kissing, we kiss in various interpersonal situations (greeting, ceremony, sex), with different goals and partners. Here, we assess the visual cortical responses elicited by viewing different couples kissing with different intents. The study thus lies at the nexus of face recognition, action recognition, and social neuroscience. Magnetoencephalography data were recorded from nine participants in a passive viewing paradigm. We presented images of couples kissing, with the images differing along two dimensions, kiss type and couple type. We quantified event-related field amplitudes and latencies. In each participant, the canonical sequence of event-related fields was observed, including an M100, an M170, and a later M400 response. The earliest two responses were significantly modulated in latency (M100) or amplitude (M170) by the sex composition of the images (with male–male and female–female pairings yielding faster latency M100 and larger amplitude M170 responses). In contrast, kiss type showed no modulation of any brain response. The early cortical-evoked fields that we typically associate with the presentation and analysis of single faces are differentially sensitive to complex social and action information in face pairs that are kissing. The early responses, typically associated with perceptual analysis, exhibit a consistent grouping and suggest a high and rapid sensitivity to the composition of the kissing pairs.

aCenter for Neural Science

bDepartment of Psychology, New York University, New York, New York

cCenter for International Energy Policy, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA

dDepartment of Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt, Germany

* Gregory B. Cogan and Sheril R. Kirshenbaum contributed equally to the writing of this article.

Correspondence to Gregory B. Cogan, PhD, Center for Neural Science, New York University, 4 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003, USA Tel: +1 212 998 7865; fax: +1 212 995 4011; e-mail: and David Poeppel, PhD, Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003, USA Tel: +1 212 992 7489; fax: +1 212 995 4960; email:

Received April 27, 2015

Accepted July 14, 2015

© 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins