Handshake Science

As I mentioned last month, I don’t know that formulas always make things clearer but an NPR story from July on handshakes might prove me wrong.  A hat tip to Natalie Fleury for this idea :  

Marketplace on NPR aired a story about the science behind the handshake.  Geoffrey Beattie, a professor at the University of Manchester researching handshakes for General Motors, came up with the following formula for the perfect handshake:

 PH = √(e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + p{(4< s >2)(4< p >2)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(4< c >2 )(4< du >2)}2

 This is the key to the equation:

(e): eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) — 5
(ve): verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) — 5
(d): Duchenne smile — smiling in eyes and mouth, plus symmetry on both sides of face, and slower offset (1=totally non-Duchenne smile (false smile); 5=totally Duchenne) — 5
(cg): completeness of grip (1=very incomplete; 5=full) — 5
(dr): dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) — 4
(s): strength (1= weak; 5=strong) — 3
(p): position of hand(1=back towards own body; 5=other person’s bodily zone) — 3
(vi): vigor (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) — 3
(t): temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) — 3
(te): texture of hands (1=too rough/too smooth; 5=mid) — 3
(c): control (1=low; 5=high) — 3
(du): duration (1= brief; 5=long) — 3

Since handshakes have traditionally been used to open discussions and to seal the deal, we should probably add this handshake formula and practice sessions to the negotiation syllabus – there is a built in scoring mechanism after all!  General Motors plans to use the results of the study to train their Chevrolet (dare I say Chevy) dealers to shake hands the “right way.”  If it’s good enough for Chevy dealers, seems to me it’s good enough for law students  ( though many of them may balk at the mathematical aspect).

2 thoughts on “Handshake Science”

  1. This study, though useful, can be further improved in two ways. First, the equation uses subjective measures to gauge various perceptions on the part of the individual receiving the handshake. These subjective measures, without objective guidelines, make the equation less useful in practice and more difficult to teach. The verbal greeting, for instance, could be further measured by quantifying the tone, duration, and type of verbal greeting. Would simpler greetings such as, “Hello, I’m John Smith” be preferred to more eloquent greetings such as, “Salutations, I am John Smith. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance”? Does the type of greeting change among age groups, sexes, or ethnic divisions? Conducting surveys with these types of questions, and correlating the results, would provide a better idea of how to gauge such factors of the handshake equation that cannot be easily quantifiable.

    A second further improvement would be to quantify those variable that can be measured. Such factors as handshake duration, control, and texture of hand, also have a degree of subjectivity to their measurement. Though the factors are much less difficult to quantify than factors such as “appropriateness” due to their specificity, such factors could also be further measured using quantifiable data. Handshakes can be measured in time, pounds of pressure in a grip, movement of the arm and hand in meters along a vertical axis, etc. Using similar statistical samplings of handshakes, educators could better demonstrate what a “3 strength” or a “4 dryness of hand” would feel like. While an argument might be made that such knowledge is intuitive, the very act of quantifying such knowledge would make it more useful to educators as a means of objective education beyond the subjective perceptions of the students. Put simply, a grip that a 25 year old male would find comfortable may be intolerable to a 90 year old woman. Quantifying the information will also allow deviations based on age, sex, and race to be measured as well.

    A final point regarding the usefulness of the study, it must me taken with a grain of cultural salt. While General Motors may find it useful to study the handshake as a general means of introduction, it may be useful to study the subject of introductions across cultural barriers. In response to increasing cultural awareness, the idea of introductions should not be standardized without some understanding of how other societies introduce themselves. Direct contact and direct stares may be less well received by fundamentalist Muslims or those of Asian heritage than by a stereotypical American citizen.

    The study by itself should be commended. It is useful in an increasingly interconnected society to be able to objectively interact with others in a positive manner. A good first step has been made in studying the traditional interaction, and breaking it into discernible components. Further refinement of the numerical and subjective values will only improve the equation as a teaching tool. This education is only further enhanced with an understanding of when the handshake is appropriate in a societal context.

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