The University of Alabama

Study Suggests Firm Handshakes and Good Impressions Really Do Go Hand-in-Hand

by Chris Bryant

handshake1What do handshakes tell you about people? Quite a bit, according to a study led by a University of Alabama associate professor of psychology.

The study, directed by Dr. William Chaplin, indicates that people with firm handshakes are generally more extroverted than are those with limp handshakes and that the firm handshakers make a better first impression. And it’s not just a guy thing.

“Having a firm handshake is important for making a good impression,” Chaplin said. “We found that men had firmer handshakes than women did, on average, but we also found that women who had firm handshakes tended to be evaluated as positively as men are. We thought this finding was interesting because often when women have characteristics that are more similar to men, they tend to elicit a somewhat more negative evaluation — simply because it’s counter to the usual stereotypes.”

So, what should women make of this?

“For women who are timid about shaking hands or who feel that handshaking is, traditionally, a masculine activity and who might not shake hands as firmly as they otherwise would, the message would be to go ahead and shake the hand firmly,” Chaplin said. “You make a great impression when you do.”

One of the few scientific evaluations of handshaking, the UA study appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a scientific journal published by the American Psychological Association.

Results from the study generated worldwide media attention, as well over 100 newspaper and television outlets, including local, regional, national and international outlets picked up on the research. Stories on Chaplin’s handshake research were spotted in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, The London Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald and elsewhere.

“There’s a history of a lot of opinion on handshakes,” said Chaplin, “and there’s a large amount of literature in etiquette books and in business literature about handshakes and its importance, but there was very little in scientific literature about handshakes.”

In the study, four upper-level University of Alabama psychology students evaluated the handshakes of 112 male and female students whom they did not know.

The students had their hands shaken eight times — twice by each evaluator. Prior to the study, the evaluators received one month of training in handshake techniques and in rating handshakes. The students who were evaluated had agreed to participate in a personality study but did not know their handshakes were being judged.

The evaluators rated the handshakers in eight areas: grip, temperature, dryness, strength, duration, vigor, texture of skin, and eye contact. The evaluators also scored the students on nine personality variables. These two ratings were then compared with the 112 students’ personality traits, as self-reported on four extensive questionnaires.

“We did find that people’s handshakes were stable across time and consistent across the evaluators,” Chaplin said. “We found that handshakes were related significantly and systematically to several personality characteristics as assessed by the self report measures. Those characteristics included extroversion and emotional expressiveness. We also found a negative correlation between a firm handshake and shyness and neuroticism.”

The study also pointed to some interesting differences between men’s and women’s handshakes and the impressions left.

Women with firm handshakes were deemed more open than were women with less firm handshakes. This made a favorable impression. However, these relations were not found with men; if anything, more open men had a less firm handshake.

If you discover your handshake is not firm enough, it may be tough to change it, says Chaplin.

“I’m not sure how easy it is to for someone who doesn’t have a firm handshake to suddenly develop one,” he said.