Academic research on the power of the handshake
An article from The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience studied the effects on people who received a handshake versus people who were actively refused a handshake during business and social engagements. The purpose of the study, according to the study's authors, was to look at "the impact of affective body language on evaluative responses in social settings and the associated neural correlates" (2292). Basically, the researchers wanted to determine whether or not there is a direct correlation between body language, specifically a handshake, and an individual's perception of the host of a social or business engagement. Surprise, surprise, there is!
The social handshake
In social situations, the study concludes that “a handshake preceding social interaction enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behavior on the evaluation of social interaction” (2303). As a host, you want to make your guests feel welcome at your social event by offering a friendly handshake upon arrival. Offering physical contact in the form of a handshake gives the appearance of further social engagements and serves to counteract any negative impressions that have formed. In this situation, a handshake really does make a good first impression because it demonstrates that you are friendly and open to meeting your guests personally.
The business handshake
As far as business goes, offering a formal handshake when meeting someone led to more positive impressions than neglecting to shake hands. Offering a handshake increases "ratings for competence, interest in doing business, and trustworthiness" (2297). Is this because offering a handshake before a business meeting is so socially ingrained that something feels amiss in the absence of such a formal greeting? The study doesn't indicate this, or really offer any answers as to why handshakes have such an impact on our first impressions, but it seems like a worthwhile question.Regardless of the reasoning, the fact remains that offering a handshake before a business meeting has positive effects.
Does grip matter?
The study did not focus on the strength of the handshake. Contrary to our popular culture's insistence in a "firm handshake" as the be-all end-all marker of strength, it seems that the simple but important act of offering a handshake instead of shying away from one makes you seem approachable, engaging, trustworthy, and competent.
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