The Red-Light District

Exploring the carnal and taboo

Shake My Hand!

Research shows that handshakes make for positive impressions

A few months ago, I went to a friend’s picnic at Dana Point in Orange County. The picnic was at a park near the beach. I knew few people at the picnic and did my best to be friendly: I smiled, introduced myself, and shook hands—well, some people’s hands.

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There was this guy who refused to shake my hand. I extended my hand, and he converted my overt show of friendliness to the less intimate “pound.” Begrudgingly, I gave him a “pound” back but I was a bit perturbed. What was wrong with my hand? Do I look sick or unsavorable? I felt dirty when he didn’t take it. I realize that he was in the middle of eating a sandwich and probably didn’t want to sully his roast turkey with my germs; nevertheless, I was insulted.

I had forgotten about the incident until a few days ago when I read an article about how it was becoming increasingly common for business people to forego the handshake in favor of the more septic wave and a smile. What is this world coming to?

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Handshakes have long played an important role in business interactions. Sealing the deal with a firm handshake is a common practice and one that’s nearly universally appreciated. But intuition isn’t scientific proof so I dug a little deeper ….

Apparently, there’s little psychology research done on shaking hands. An interesting study from the Beckman Institute used diagnostic imaging (functional MRI) to support the hypothesis that during social and business interactions, a firm handshake makes for a positive first impression and dispels any concerns about avoidant behavior.

Occasionally, it’s acceptable to turn away a handshake. For example, Muslim women will sometimes avoid a handshake for religious and cultural reasons. Furthermore, some Japanese people prefer to bow. But unless you have some fundamental belief that dissuades you from taking another person’s hand in a show of friendliness, I just don’t appreciate being left hanging. If you think a person has a cold or has been digging through the garbage, then find some polite and inconspicuous way to excuse yourself and wash your hands or use one of those ubiquitous hand sanitizers.

What do you think?

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Naveed Saleh, M.D., M.S., attained a medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and a master's degree in science journalism from Texas A&M.


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