Release the clutch: Prolonged handshakes can trigger anxiety

January 16, 2020

When somebody has got you in his clutches, it’s usually not a good feeling, the Irish Examiner reports. In fact, based findings of a study conducted at the University of Dundee’s School of Social Sciences in Scotland, handshakes that are held for longer than three seconds can trigger anxiety, negatively impact business meetings, and affect the state of relationships.

There were two parts to the study. First, the 36 participants were interviewed about their work and career prospects. Then, they were introduced to a second researcher, who would either shake their hands in a “normal” fashion (for less than three seconds), in a “prolonged” way (for longer than three seconds)—or not at all.

The participants were unaware of the significance of the handshake throughout the study period, with their subsequent reactions analyzed.

Dr. Emese Nagy, a reader in Psychology who led the study, told the Examiner that the findings highlight the importance of introducing ourselves appropriately. She noted, “Handshakes are a particularly important greeting and can have long-lasting consequences for the relationships that we form.

“There has been evidence,” she said, “to suggest that many behaviors, such as hugs, fall within a window of approximately three seconds and this study has confirmed that handshakes that occur [within] this time frame feel more natural to those who participate in the greeting.

Nagy notes, “While shaking hands for longer may appear to be a warm gesture on the surface, we found that they negatively affected the behavior of the recipient, even after the handshake was finished.

“Politicians are particularly keen on prolonged handshakes, which are often used an expression of warmth but also as a means of demonstrating authority. However, our findings suggest that while doing so might look impressive for the cameras, this behavior could potentially jeopardize the quality of their working and personal relationships from the beginning, which could have repercussions for millions of people.”

The team found that participants showed less interactional enjoyment after the longer handshake—laughing less and showing increased anxiety. Handshakes lasting less than three seconds resulted in less subsequent smiling, but did feel more natural to those who participated.

No behavioral changes were associated with the no-handshake control experiment.

Research contact: @irishexaminer

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