Researchers in the US have studied the influence of handshaking on social evaluations, finding that a firm, confident handshake “not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression.” The paper, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, might be the first to provide scientific evidence of the power of this long-held tradition.
“Previous research investigating social interactions has used static instead of dynamic social stimuli, or focused only on faces,” said co-author Sanda Dolcos, of the University of Illinois. “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.”
The results are based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), skin conductance, and behavioral responses from 18 male and female subjects. The information was collected while they were watching animated videos of non-verbal guest-host interactions in a business setting. The researchers found that the “nucleus accumbens, which is a reward processing region, showed greater activity for Handshake than for No-handshake conditions.”
“In a business setting this is what people are expecting, and those who know these things use them,” said Florin Dolcos, another co-author and researcher at the University of Illinois. “Not a very long time ago you could get a loan based on a handshake. 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.”
Dolcos, S., Sung, K., Argo, J., Flor-Henry, S., & Dolcos, F. (2012). The Power of a Handshake: Neural Correlates of Evaluative Judgments in Observed Social Interactions Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 1-14 DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_00295