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The magic of handshakes, more than greetings - Study

Written by Chioma Obinna - Vanguard, Nigeria

IN most African countries like Nigeria, the most common greeting is a handshake with a smile. However, whether limp or firm, handshake conveys subliminal social cues. Do you know that a simple handshake can mean more than greetings? A new research finding has revealed that handshakes also transmit chemical signals that can explain the meaning of the greeting in the first place.
In the study, published in the journal eLife, scientists from Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science discovered that people use the touch of a handshake to sample and sniff signalling molecules.

Hidden cameras
During the experiment, around 280 people were greeted either with or without a handshake. They were filmed using hidden cameras and observed to see how many times they touched their face. One finding of the study was that people constantly sniff their own hands - keeping a hand at their nose about 22 percent of the time.

Subjects greeted with a handshake significantly increased touching of their faces with their right hand. However, this only seemed to be the case when the subject had been greeted by a person of the same gender. To check that the observed face-touching was being used as a way to subtly sniff the hand used in handshaking, subjects were fitted with nasal catheters to measure airflow. They found that when a hand was in close proximity to the nose airflow through the nasal passages doubled.

Neurobiology reacts: 
The Chair of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Noam Sobel said: "It is well-known that we emit odours that influence the behaviour and perception of others but, unlike other mammals, we don't sample those odours from each other overtly. Instead, our experiments reveal handshakes as a discreet way to actively search for social chemosignals," he said. Previous studies have suggested that human chemosignals play a role in mate selection, conveying fear, altering brain activity, and synchronising women's menstrual cycles. To confirm that handshaking is effective at passing on this type of chemical, the scientists analysed the content of sterile gloves used to shake the hands of the subjects. They found that squalene and hexadecanoic acid, both chemicals thought to play a part in social signalling in dogs and rats, were transferred onto the gloves.

"Handshaking is already known to convey a range of information depending on the duration of the gesture, its strength and the posture used," Sobel added.

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