Handshake as source of pleasure

In the business world it is customary to shake hands when meeting a person. In old times an open hand meant that the person came with peace and was not hiding weapons. To this day, human brain has a similar perception of this gesture. Moreover, as scientists suggest, the pleasure from a handshake is comparable to the pleasure from a kiss.

There is a old explanation of where the custom of a handshake came from. In ancient times, the gesture meant that the person was not hiding a weapon behind their back. Since most people are right-handed, it was customary to offer open right hand. It can be argued that in general terms the meaning of the gesture has remained unchanged to this day. By holding out a hand for a handshake, we declare our openness and readiness for a contact.

Incidentally, the custom to clink glasses with alcohol is also historically conditioned. In ancient times, those sitting at the table moved their "drinking cups" together so that the liquid was poured from one cup to another to prove it contained no poison.

Researchers at the Beckmann Institute of the University of Illinois (USA) decided to find out what neurophysiological mechanisms were involved in the ritual of a handshake. In their experiment, 18 men and women watched a silent video showing a business meeting between two people. In some cases, the meeting was accompanied by the partners' handshake, while in others partners deviated from it one way or the other.

The scientists performed MRI brain scans on the volunteers watching the video, measuring the electrical conductivity of the skin and evaluating behavioral responses to what they saw. It turned out that amygdala, superior temporal sulcus cortex and pleasure center reacted to the handshake (even captured on video). These are brain structures responsible for feeling of pleasure. Amygdala is also responsible for emotions. This means that a handshake symbolizing a successful social contact gives us a pleasant feeling.

When the study participants watched the video where the characters declined a handshake, all of the above areas of the brain remained inactive. The researches emphasized that the difference of this work from the previous ones was in the fact that a "real time scene" was used in the brain evaluation. So far, most of the experiments on this topic have been based on static stimuli (e.g., images display). Due to the fact that everyday social life consists mainly of "dynamic situations", the results of this study are closer to reality.

Given that a handshake activates the pleasure center, it can be compared to a weak analogy of sex. However, most friendly touches cause positive emotions in mentally healthy people. In autistic people the areas of pleasure and social interaction are suppressed, so they shy away from contact and have no motivation to communicate.

Embrace is yet another evolutionary gesture that makes people feel better. A person who is being hugged subconsciously feels safe. Embrace is uplifting and boosts our confidence. According to European medical professionals, hugging is extremely healthful. The more people hug, the stronger their immune system is, as well as nervous and endocrine systems. Hugs even help to stabilize the level of hemoglobin in one's blood. 

The same is true for kisses, which are found not only in humans but also in animals. Kisses are meant to show tenderness and help people to get intimate. A kiss stimulates the nervous system of the partners, and endorphins rush into their blood stream. Kissing enhances the regenerative function of the body, reduces the risk of heart attacks and is a great painkiller and sedative.

Yana Filimonova


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov