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Social etiquette: The psychology behind shaking hands

The custom of shaking hands is considered more positive in Western countries than in East Asian countries.

more lifestyle Updated: Jul 10, 2017 15:46 IST
Indo Asian News Service, New York
Hand-shaking is an inherently Western behaviour customary in business contexts.(Shutterstock)

People living in western countries view shaking hands as a more positive behaviour than their counterparts in East Asian countries, a study has showed. “Hand-shaking is an inherently Western behaviour customary in business contexts, and it’s also a historically male behaviour,” said Yuta Katsumi, a graduate student at University of Illinois — Urbana— Champaign.

Previous studies have revealed that hand-shaking behaviour positively affects people’s first impressions and their evaluations of others. In the new study, reported in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 88 Western and East Asian people were shown short videos of a series of movies illustrating guest-host interactions 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, the 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. The results indicated that Western participants had more positive evaluations of social interactions involving handshakes as compared to East Asians. Further, Western men and women were also found to evaluate the situations differently. Western women rated all interactions with hand-shakes more positively than those without.

On the other hand, Western men evaluated male hosts less positively when they did not shake hands, but they rated female hosts equally positively regardless of whether a handshake occurred.

“Our results show that in Western males there is a clear expectation to shake hands during first encounters with other males. But they don’t seem to be affected by the absence of a handshake when interacting with females,” said Florin Dolcos, Professor at the University of Illinois.

“This is clear evidence of how subtle things that might seem trivial can make a big difference in daily social interactions,” Dolcos added.

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First Published: Jul 10, 2017 15:45 IST