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An answer to the 'Jane Austen problem': Kissing assesses the genetic quality of a potential sexual partner

Study finds that women rated it more important than men in indicating the desirability of a potential mate

Kissing is a way for people to assess the genetic quality of a potential sexual partner and is especially important for women to size up a future husband according to a study into the “Jane Austen problem”.

Anthropologists have long argued about why humans are particularly prone to kissing which appears to be a near universal behaviour among potential lovers, and now they think they have come close to explain why it is so important.

A survey of 900 men and women confirmed that kissing appears to play a central role in assessing a future partner, which is especially important for the Ms Bennets of the world who are in search for their Mr Darcys, said Professor Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University.

“Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex. It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves 'shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?' Initial attraction may include facial, body and social cues. The assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship sage, and this is where kissing comes in,” Professor Dunbar said.

“In choosing partners, we have to deal with the Jane Austen problem: how long do you wait for Mr Darcy to come along when you can't wait forever and there may be lots of women waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?” he said.

The study found that women rated kissing more important than men, and that both men and women who considered themselves to be attractive and tend to go in for short-term relationships are more likely than other men and women to rate kissing highly.

Professor Dunbar believes the findings, published in the journals Archives of Sexual Behaviour and Human Nature, show how important the role of kissing is for judging the hidden biological cues indicating the genetic fitness or desirability of a potential mate.

“What Jane Austen realised is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the mating market and pitch their demands accordingly,” Professor Dunbar said.

“It depends what kind of poker hand you've been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates. We see some of that coming out in the results of our survey, suggesting that kissing plays a role in assessing a potential partner,” he said.