Decoding the Primal Handshake

Along with your dress, body language, and demeanor, the handshake is a component of non-verbal communication that contributes to that critical first impression. And like many types of non-verbal communication among humans, the handshake is a custom with surprisingly primal roots. Several scientific studies have shed light not only on shaking hands in itself, or on the right way to do it, but also on some actual evolutionary benefits it may have.

The Perfect Handshake

“Strength is only one of countless variables that all work together to produce a resulting impression”

The strength of a handshake is certainly one way to gain a feel for another person’s attitude toward the current situation, but it’s really only one of countless variables that all work together to produce a resulting impression. In 2010, Chevrolet developed a detailed formula for making the perfect handshake for its sales staff, taking into account everything from a smile that reaches the eyes and facial symmetry, to hand dryness and temperature.

Despite being thought to be one of the most important components of a good handshake, only 5% of people involved in a scientific study said that they were turned off by others who didn’t make eye contact with them during a handshake. Sweaty palms, on the other hand, were considered to be the top handshake turn-off, cited by 38% of participants:

Decoding the Primal Handshake - Perfection


Cultural Caveats

When it comes to making introductions in a professional setting, a handshake is the most common way to greet someone – particularly in Western culture. However, there are exceptions to these rules to be aware of.

Decoding the Primal Handshake - Customs


History of the Handshake

Today we handshake out of social instinct. Earlier, there may have been other purposes.

Decoding the Primal Handshake - History


The Olfactory Motivation

According to research conducted by neurobiologists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, the handshake may have evolved from a desire to judge other humans by their unique scents. The team’s study involved observation of 271 people, who either did or didn’t shake hands, to see how they’d react after they were left alone. It turns out that those who did engage in a handshake ended up sniffing their hands more than twice as often as those who didn’t shake hands. This hinted at a possible evolutionary habit that involves gathering and analyzing information about another person from the chemicals they pass through their hands.



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The Primal Handshake. Tips and background for perfecting the ancient and vital custom
The Primal Handshake

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