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Dr. Florin Dolcos, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Psychology of the Handshake

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Florin Dolcos of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explains the importance of the handshake in making a good first impression.

Florin Dolcos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, a member of the Beckman Institute’s Cognitive Neuroscience group, and the director of the Affective, Cognitive, and Clinical Neuroscience Lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His main research interests are in investigating the neural correlates of emotion-cognition interactions in healthy and clinical populations, as studied with brain imaging techniques such as fMRI.

About Dr. Dolcos

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Dr. Florin Dolcos – Psychology of the Handshake

A firm and friendly handshake has long been recommended as a way to make a good first impression. Not very long ago, one could get a loan based on a handshake, so it conveys something very basic and important. However, it is not clear what underlies this powerful effect.

A new study, reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, provides insight into just how important the practice is in social interactions, and what the associated neural correlates are. The study used fMRI recordings while men and women volunteers watched and rated videos of non-verbal guest-host interactions, in a business setting. The videos included animated human characters, encountering each other for the first time, and showing obvious interest or indifference for further interactions, by displaying approach or avoidance behaviors. Half of these behaviors were preceded by a handshake, as part of the greeting behaviors. Analyses of brain imaging data focused on regions of the so-called “social cognition network”, which are commonly engaged when people assess the intentions of others.

The results showed that a handshake preceding social interactions enhanced the positive impression of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behaviors. This is very important to know, because many of our social interactions may go wrong for a reason or other, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings. The study also revealed that the nucleus accumbens, a reward processing brain region, showed greater activity for Handshake than for No-Handshake trials, thus demonstrating a link to the positive impact of handshake on social evaluations. These findings grant neuroscientific support for “the power of a handshake”, and have obvious implications for those who want to make good impressions.

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