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Surprising Science

Why Your Brain Likes a Good Handshake

New neuroscience confirms what we have longed believed to be true: A warm and engaging handshake activates pleasure centers in the brain, overcoming awkward social interactions. 

What’s the Latest Development?


Advances in neuroscience are adding scientific support to long-held beliefs such as the importance of offering a warm and friendly handshake whenever we greet someone. According to new research involving the use of fMRI machines, the brain’s “nucleus accumbens, which is a reward processing region, showed greater activity for Handshake than for No-handshake conditions”thus demonstrating a link to “the positive effect of handshake on social evaluation.” The new research will be published in the December edition of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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What’s the Big Idea?

Evolutionary biologists believe the handshake emerged as a friendly gesture because it shows that neither party is holding a weapon in their hand. Today, it seems that our ancestors’ traditions still run deep. The recent study “found that [handshakes] not only increase the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but they also diminish the impact of a negative impression. Many of our social interactions may go wrong for one reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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