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The way you lean in for a smooch may indicate your true feelings

My mother-in-law is a lip kisser. I still remember the first time she leaned in to give me a quick peck on the mouth. It was the first time I could remember another adult who was not romantically interested in me doing that. Of course she meant it as a friendly greeting. Of course I still freaked out.

Chalk it up to cultural or generational differences, but I was not prepared for that lip-lock. (OK, OK, more of a lip-brush.) Ever since then, I’ve paid close attention to how people who lip-kiss hello or goodbye go about it. And I’m not the only one fascinated. This idea of how adults kiss — whether it’s a lover, a child, a parent or a friend — is the subject of a new study published in the journal Laterality.

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Scientists scoured the Net for pictures of people locking lips (good gig if you can get it!) and analyzed the smooches in context of the people’s relationships. They discovered that regardless of gender, culture or even age, there is one major similarity: The direction people turn when they kiss indicates their feelings about the person.

Kissing an acquaintance, friend or family member? Lean to the left. Kissing someone you’re romantically interested in? Lean in to the right. (And if you try to kiss someone straight on, then you’re a psychopath. Kidding. Sort of. Either you have no spatial awareness or no respect for other people’s noses.)

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Often if you’re comfortable enough to kiss someone hello, you’re already well aware of the nature of the relationship. But if you’re unattached and hoping for a love connection, this one little physical sign can give you a clue as to your date’s true feelings. A kiss good night coming toward your right (meaning they’re turning to the left) likely means they’re just being polite. But if it lands from your left, there may be a second date in your future.

A good example would be the stock photo at the top of this article. It may seem like a super-romantic beach kiss, but they’re both leaning to the left — likely because they’re actors paid to pose like that and aren’t really in love with each other! Who says there’s no truth in advertising?

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The researchers think this phenomenon has to do with the reward systems in our brains. As infants we’re often cradled in our parents’ left arms, and so moving left feels more natural for close, platonic relationships. But leaning right activates the reward system in our brains associated with romantic love.

Clearly this isn’t an exact science, so I say you should do a little field research of your own! (Except maybe not on your mother-in-law.)

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