Posted by: Dr. Helen Fisher
Topic: Recently some schools banned hugging and “extreme displays of public affection” – what impact do you think this will have on kids and teens, as they become adults?
I don’t think a ban on “extreme displays of public affection” are going to have any negative impact on kids and teens as they grow up. But it may have an immediate effect. Social barriers intensify feelings of romantic love, what I call “frustration attraction.” When we can’t get what we want, we want it harder. There is brain physiology to this response. When the brain’s “reward system,” (associated with focused attention, motivation, wanting and craving), does NOT get what it wants, it just sustains its activity. It’s nature’s way of driving us to seek our goals. So strictures on public hugging will simply motivate partners to seek more.
But it’s interesting that these young men and women WANT to express extreme affection in public. One of the hallmarks of humankind is that we have sex in private. Our closest relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, copulate in public. Chimps sometimes go “on safari,” departing from the group to have sex in the forest by themselves. But sex is largely a public act. Anthropologists have long speculated on why humans deviate from this general mammalian pattern. Among the hypotheses, public displays of affection do more than just assuage one’s craving; they signal to all who watch that you are sexual and in love. The problem with this signaling is that others may want a bit of the action for themselves. Sex and love are nature’s finest gifts. So “mate poaching” is extremely common. Like those who wave their money around in public, those who display their sexuality must be willing to defend it. Not such a good tactic on a playground.