The subtleties of handshaking
Research reveals how a simple ritual carries big implications
The research is reported in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.
“We know from previous studies that handshaking positively affects people’s first impressions and evaluations of others,” said U of I graduate student Yuta Katsumi, who led the research with U. of I. psychology professors Sanda Dolcos and Florin Dolcos.
The team showed 88 Western and East Asian men and women short videos of two avatar characters – a “guest” and a “host” – interacting in a business setting. The characters either shook hands at the beginning of the meeting or started their interaction without a handshake. After watching each video, participants were asked how interested they would be in doing business with the video’s host, and how competent he or she seemed to be.
“Handshaking is an inherently Western behavior customary in business contexts, and it’s also a historically male behavior,” Katsumi said. He hypothesized that expectations about handshakes would change how positively people rated social interactions in the videos.
“Our results show that in Western males there is a clear expectation to shake hands during first encounters with other males,” Florin Dolcos said. “But they don’t seem to be affected by the absence of a handshake when interacting with females. This is clear evidence of how subtle things that might seem trivial can make a big difference in daily social interactions.”
The researchers plan to expand on these findings by exploring handshaking versus bowing, a traditional greeting in East Asian cultures. They also are investigating the brain mechanisms behind forming first impressions of people from different ethnic groups.
“This research has very important applications to real life,” Sanda Dolcos said. “Society is so diverse, and we should be mindful of the different traditions and ways of interacting that people are used to.”
The Dolcos Lab is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U of I. The University of Illinois funded this research.
Sarah Banducci, Illinois News Bureau
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