Science reveals the power of a handshake

October 19, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—New neuroscience research is confirming an old adage about the power of a handshake: strangers do form a better impression of those who proffer their hand in greeting. The study was led by Beckman Institute researcher Florin Dolcos and Department of Psychology postdoctoral research associate Sanda Dolcos.  

A firm, friendly handshake has long been recommended in the business world as a way to make a good first impression, and the greeting is thought to date to ancient times as a way of showing a stranger you had no weapons. Now, a paper published online and for the December print issue of the on a study of the of a handshake is giving insight into just how important the practice is to the evaluations we make of subsequent social interactions. The study was led by Beckman Institute researcher Florin Dolcos and Department of Psychology postdoctoral research associate Sanda Dolcos. They found, as they wrote, that "a handshake preceding enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of on the evaluation of social interaction."

Their results, for the first time, give a scientific underpinning to long-held beliefs about the important role a handshake plays in social or business interactions. Sanda Dolcos said their findings have obvious implications for those who want to make a good impression.

"I would tell them to be aware of the power of a handshake," she said. "We found that it not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression. Many of our social interactions may go wrong for a reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings."

The study focused experimentally on approach and avoidance behaviors in social interactions. (fMRI), skin conductance, and behavioral responses were collected from18 male and female volunteers who watched and rated animated videos of non-verbal guest-host interactions in a business setting. Analysis of the fMRI data focused on brain areas from the social cognition network.

The results showed "increased sensitivity to approach than to avoidance behavior in amygdala and superior temporal sulcus, which were linked to a positive evaluation of approach behavior and a positive impact of handshake." In addition, the researchers wrote, the "nucleus accumbens, which is a reward processing region, showed greater activity for Handshake than for No-handshake conditions" – thus demonstrating a link to "the positive effect of handshake on social evaluation."

"The regions of the social cognition network are commonly engaged when people are assessing the intentions of others," Florin Dolcos said. "They had been identified before and people who have difficulty in interactions, like people with autism, have reduced response in this region.

"But, unlike previous studies, we simulated approach and avoidance behaviors using animated characters that displayed obvious interest or indifference for further interactions. This is the first time that such a manipulation was used in a relevant context."

The videos the participants watched included animated human figures in a setting that indicated a business-type interaction. The figures included a host and a guest encountering each other for the first time. Florin Dolcos said using animated videos with human figures interacting in a defined social context was a big step forward in this type of research.

"Previous research investigating social interactions has used static instead of dynamic social stimuli, or focused only on faces," he said. "However, in everyday life people are typically involved in dynamic interactions with others in a defined social context. I think that is what sets this study apart." Sanda Dolcos summed up the results: "Overall, our study not only replicated previous reports that identify activity in regions of the social cognition network, but also provided insight into the contribution of these regions into evaluating approach and avoidance social interactions, and grant neuroscientific support for the power of a handshake."

Florin Dolcos added that it's not just any handshake that leads to positive feelings, but a particular way of shaking hands, such as a firm, confident, yet friendly handshake, as is often promoted as good business practice.

"In a business setting this is what people are expecting, and those who know these things use them," he said. "Not a very long time ago you could get a loan based on a . So it conveys something very important, very basic. Yet the science underlying this is so far behind. We knew these things intuitively but now we also have the scientific support."

Explore further: Personality, habits of thought and gender influence how we remember

More information: Paper: www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/a … 29&searchHistoryKey=

Related Stories

Personality, habits of thought and gender influence how we remember

April 10, 2012
We all have them – positive memories of personal events that are a delight to recall, and painful recollections that we would rather forget. A new study reveals that what we do with our emotional memories and how they ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals 'exquisite selectivity' of neuronal wiring in the cerebral cortex

August 21, 2017
The brain's astonishing anatomical complexity has been appreciated for over 100 years, when pioneers first trained microscopes on the profusion of branching structures that connect individual neurons. Even in the tiniest ...

Researchers find monkey brain structure that decides if viewed objects are new or unidentified

August 18, 2017
A team of researchers working at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine has found what they believe is the part of the monkey brain that decides if something that is being viewed is recognizable. In their paper published ...

Study of nervous system cells can help to understand degenerative diseases

August 18, 2017
The results of a new study show that many of the genes expressed by microglia differ between humans and mice, which are frequently used as animal models in research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

How whip-like cell appendages promote bodily fluid flow

August 18, 2017
Researchers at Nagoya University have identified a molecule that enables cell appendages called cilia to beat in a coordinated way to drive the flow of fluid around the brain; this prevents the accumulation of this fluid, ...

Researchers make surprising discovery about how neurons talk to each other

August 17, 2017
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have uncovered the mechanism by which neurons keep up with the demands of repeatedly sending signals to other neurons. The new findings, made in fruit flies and mice, challenge ...

Neurons involved in learning, memory preservation less stable, more flexible than once thought

August 17, 2017
The human brain has a region of cells responsible for linking sensory cues to actions and behaviors and cataloging the link as a memory. Cells that form these links have been deemed highly stable and fixed.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lantern5
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2012
Please, take a look at the following article and comments, is for the welfare of young women in their families: Pap smears to protect against a must cervical cancer
A2G
5 / 5 (1) Oct 20, 2012
A correctly done handshake puts out that we are equals. That is why it works. There is an LA motor cop who has for twenty years been giving out traffic tickets. Even though the average traffic cop in LA gets at least three complaints against them per year, in 20 years this guy has not had one. I saw him interviewed and the reporter asked him his secret.

His reply, "I treat everyone as if they are my equal. They are not better than me and they certainly are not less than me. They are my equal."

That attitude goes a long ways when you meet someone in person. That attitude is sensed by the other person and that is what a correct handshake does as well. It shows that we are equals.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.