Meeting someone new? Don’t skip the formalities. Shaking hands before a social interaction makes a more positive impression than a no-handshake greeting, according to an article to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Researchers tracked the brain activity of people who watched and rated videos of non-verbal guest-host exchanges. During handshake exchanges, the results showed increased activity in the brain’s reward processing region, which the researchers say demonstrates a link between the positive impact of a handshake and social evaluation.
But a handshake is more than just part of a friendly introduction—it helps break the ice, too, says Patti Wood, body language expert and author of Snap, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma. Shaking hands began as peace offering—proof you didn’t have any weapons, Wood says. Nowadays it still has the same primal effect of breaking down the “stranger barrier,” she explains. Go without the handshake, however, and “it will take longer to feel comfortable and safe with someone,” she says.
Think your shake needs assistance? Wood says to start early when meeting someone new. “Put your hand out to prepare for a handshake at least four to six feet away from the person,” she says. That way your new acquaintance isn’t surprised by your gesture, and there’s no risk of crowding each other.
Want to avoid a weak grip or the embarrassing fingers-only fumble? “Pointing your fingers down and scooping into the palm of the other person’s hand will prevent them from grabbing too shallow or getting a wimpy handshake,” Wood says.