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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.

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.”

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