No physical contact please, we’re British: We only want to shake hands on first meeting

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In today’s touchy-feely society, it may seem like everyone is hugging and planting kisses on each other. But people are still only comfortable with a formal introductory handshake with a study finding British reserve is alive when meeting people for the first time (stock image)


No physical contact please, we’re British: We only want to shake hands on first meeting – and Japan shares this social preference

  • British people are against hugs and kisses unless from friends and close relative
  • Handshakes are the preferred method of greeting from a stranger, study found
  • Participants were not even comfortable with a pat on the arm on first meeting 
  • A quarter of those surveyed avoided colleagues due to their greeting methods 

In today’s touchy-feely society, it may seem like everyone is hugging and planting kisses on each other.

But people are still only comfortable with a formal introductory handshake with a study finding British reserve is alive and well when meeting people for the first time.

A demonstrative hug or continental double kiss is unlikely to go down well, as we are really only comfortable with strangers touching just our hands.

Researchers asked people to mark, on a computer, the parts of their body, front and back, that those in their lives were allowed to touch.

British people had no problem with close relatives and friends touching their face or upper torso when giving them a hug, but did not want strangers to do the same.

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In today’s touchy-feely society, it may seem like everyone is hugging and planting kisses on each other. But people are still only comfortable with a formal introductory handshake with a study finding British reserve is alive when meeting people for the first time (stock image)

The study, led by Aalto University in Finland, says: ‘Emotionally close individuals in the inner layers of the social network were allowed to touch larger bodily areas, whereas touching by strangers was primarily limited to the hands.’

Married people and couples are happy for their partners to touch any part of their body, the study shows.

Most of the 386 people questioned were also quite relaxed about friends and close relatives touching their torsos and faces, such as when leaning in for a kiss or a hug.

But most people indicated that strangers were banned from touching most parts of their body, ruling out even a friendly pat on the arm. The study found around half of people thought a stranger touching their hands, as in a handshake, was acceptable.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, asked how pleasurable people would find being touched by different people, from partners to parents and siblings to aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

People enjoyed being touched more if they had a close emotional bond with the person touching them.

British people had no problem with close relatives and friends touching their face or upper torso when giving them a hug, but did not want strangers to do the same. Couples are happy for their partners to touch any part of their body, the study shows (stock image)

British people had no problem with close relatives and friends touching their face or upper torso when giving them a hug, but did not want strangers to do the same. Couples are happy for their partners to touch any part of their body, the study shows (stock image)

The study, which also included 255 Japanese people, found those of both sexes were less happy being touched by men than women.

In separate research, it has emerged many people want an end to physical contact in offices, with a third having suffered an ‘awkward’ greeting from a colleague.

A quarter of 2,000 adults surveyed said they had avoided a colleague or client because of the way they greeted people.

They complained of unwanted hugs, unexpected kisses and accidental kisses on the mouth due to ill-timed air kisses. Three-quarters of people in a study by jobs site Totaljobs said they would support a ban on physical contact in the workplace.

Most of those polled said they wanted clear guidance on appropriate greetings in a professional setting.

Alexandra Sydney, marketing director at Totaljobs, said: ‘Whether it’s an unwanted hug, or a mistimed kiss on the cheek, our research suggests that workplace greetings have the potential to stray beyond awkward and could have a real impact on job satisfaction and productivity.’

WHAT IS THE ‘CUDDLE HORMONE’ OXYTOCIN?

Oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, engenders trust and generosity.

The chemical is released naturally from the brain into the blood of humans and other mammals during social and sexual behaviours.

It is produced by women during labour to help them bond with their baby, and stimulates the production of breast milk.

The chemical is also released during lovemaking, earning it the nickname ‘the cuddle hormone’.

Other loving touches, from hugging a teddy bear to stroking your pet dog, also trigger the hormone’s release.

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