What a Handshake Smells Like

By Cari Romm
Cari Romm
Cari Romm
March 11, 2015 Updated: March 11, 2015

The most important information relayed by a handshake isn’t conveyed through touch at all. Rather, according to a team of neurobiologists from Israel’s Weizmann Institute, the original handshake was all about smell. In a paper published last week in the journal eLife, the researchers argue that the custom of shaking hands may have evolved primarily as an excuse for people to judge each other by way of scent, gleaning information from the chemicals passed from palm to palm.

When people put their hands near their noses, the researchers found, they tended to take in twice as much air as when they were breathing normally. “In other words,” the authors wrote, “when subjects brought their hands to their nose, they concurrently sniffed.”

But the handshake itself isn’t the evolutionary end game—after all, the gesture is the norm only in certain segments of the world. A handshake does in one part of the world what a cheek kiss does in another.

In fact, the handshake and the kiss may stem from the same place. “Many anthropologists believe that first ‘kisses’ may have been delivered via our noses rather than our lips, as we closely inhaled the scent of our loved one’s cheeks,” Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote in her book The Science of Kissing.

 This article was originally published on www.theatlantic.com. Read the complete article here.