We’ve all heard that the eyes are the window to the soul, but could the same be said about handshakes? There have been a number of different studies in various countries investigating handshaking, so the subject can be taken as one of definite cultural interest. Many businesses claim that they hire based on a person’s handshake, and whilst this may seem a tad extreme, could there be some merit to it? It’s one thing to form an impression from a mumbled “good morning”, but an entirely different thing when physical contact is involved. Can we really tell that much just from the intensity of a person’s grip, or the vigorousness with which they shake our hands?
According to Chaplin et al. (2000), there is definitely a link between personality traits and handshaking. Researchers went to extreme lengths to take objective measurements, introducing the 112 participants to four different “handshake judges” in a way that made it seem natural that they would be greeted with a handshake. After this introduction, the participants then completed a set of personality tests, which the researchers used to measure whether or not their handshakes reflected their personalities.
The personality traits they tested for were:
The judges analysed these traits through eight different handshake characteristics: completeness of grip, temperature, dryness, strength, duration, vigor, texture, and eye contact. Before evaluating the handshakes, the judges practiced being able to accurately distinguish between these characteristics for months in advance.
In addition to evaluating the characteristics of each handshake, the judges were asked for their impressions about the personality characteristics displayed by each participant. They rated the personality traits and handshake characteristics on a 5-point scale.
In the end, the judges found that the individual traits of a handshake did not allow them to accurately judge the participants’ personalities. Their judgments were global (applicable to everyone), rather than specific (applicable to just the individual), and they could only reliably agree on whether the handshake conveyed a “good impression” or a “poor impression.”
However, a combination of all the characteristics (vigor, texture, eye contact etc.) resulted in one global factor– “the firm handshake”, which correlated with traits such as openness and extraversion. Those without a “firm handshake” were found to score higher on measures of neuroticism and were thought to be shyer. So in other words, whilst people can’t tell you exactly where you fall on the spectrum for the five specific personality traits, they may be able to tell if you’re shy and anxious, or open and outgoing.
This study also looked into gender variables when it comes to forming first impressions based on handshakes. The researchers utilized two female and two male judges, as to avoid gender bias, and found that women with a firm handshake made a more favourable impression, despite fears that they would be viewed as pushy or aggressive. For men the effect was not as strong, although for both genders, a weak handshake generally creates a poor impression. (Nice!)
So, whilst you probably should not be judged just on your handshake, it may be a good idea to pay attention to how you greet people, as they may be forming a bad impression of you without you even knowing it. Although this study does have its limitations and can’t be viewed as undeniable proof of our judgemental nature, you may want to brush up on your hand shaking skills. Don’t be afraid of coming across as aggressive! If you hope to make a good first impression, a firm handshake may be the only way.
Do you make judgements based on people’s handshakes? Do you find it hard, as a woman, to be more assertive when it comes to greetings?