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Handshakes: The Way We Say “Smell You Later”

Finger sniffers off the hook, for now.

Photo by Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

While till now, finger sniffing was a frowned upon behavior, often associated with the lifestyles of mold-gathering shut-ins, or sweaty, deviated preverts, science has good news for all you digit-huffing weirdoes out there. You may just be participating in a normal human behavior as old as time, an evaluative practice that shines new light on the way we greet one another every day.


According to Science Daily, a new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science says people may have actually developed the ritual of shaking hands as a non-invasive means of checking each other’s scents. After establishing that shaking hands does actually transfer chemosignal smells, the team examined hundreds of handshakes, finding that unconscious hand and finger sniffing increased significantly right after the familiar greeting. Same-gender shakes resulted in additional sniffing of the shaken (right) hand, while opposite gender greetings had subjects sniffing their own unshaken hand, as if to check whether one’s own hormones and pheromones were in working order.

“Our findings suggest that people are not just passively exposed to socially-significant chemical signals, but actively seek them out,” Idan Frumin, who conducted the study, told Science Daily. “Rodents, dogs, and other mammals commonly sniff themselves, and they sniff one another in social interactions, and it seems that in the course of evolution, humans have retained this practice—only on a subliminal level.”

The researchers have not yet mentioned whether their findings extend to high fives or daps, but hopefully, someone from the world of greetings science will soon tackle the weird, socio-biological origins of the “air kiss.”

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