Handshake or Fist Bumping – Which Do You Prefer and Why?

Most of us will agree a handshake is the best way to express a connection with another person. It is a way to send a message; whether in addition to a verbal “hi” or “hello” it is most often deemed a sign of thoughtfulness &/or affection. Although many individuals may not like to be touched, a handshake is a gesture with limited and accepted physical contact; and, it is commonly considered to be humanizing as in “I am extending my hand, please do the same.”

In fact, there are different types of handshakes that can even be labeled as such: The Squeeze where the other’s hand is grabbed or squeezed in a very strong handshake. It is directly or indirectly used to evince power or to intimidate. The Sandwich involves putting a friend’s hand between your two hands. It is most often intended to make the other person feel important. Then, there is the Tenacious, a handshake in which the other’s hand is held without moving or releasing it while staring at that individual’s eyes. Clearly, there are different inferences that can be drawn depending upon the corresponding verbal or visual cues. In some cultures, there is the Kiss which is an opportunity to show respect and/or admiration by kissing the hand of another person.

Fist bumping has become a popular alternative in which one lightly taps their fist against the front of the other person’s fist, or bumps one’s fist on top of the other’s fist. Some proponents claim fist bumping is as good or even better than hand shaking and still creates a social connection because of other factors, such as the facial expression, demeanor, how long the bump is and/or the degree of force applied (but clearly not used to hurt the other).

Opponents of the handshake claim more bacteria are transmitted with a handshake than fist bumping. They maintain it exposes over three times the hand surface area as a fist bump, the contact averages almost three times longer and, therefore, a hand shake should be limited. They further note that even after washing our hands, 80% of us will retain some form of disease-causing bacteria. But, proponents of the handshake claim that getting germs helps develop immunity, and aside from the societal and cultural values identified above, hand shaking is actually good for our health.

The major concern to the opponents of hand shaking is the increased numbers of people exposed to infectious disease. There are many medical conditions that carry an extraordinary risk of infection unless antibiotics are used. For example, severe burns are highly susceptible to infection. Many procedures require suppressing the immune system, such as in helping to destroy cancer or to keep viable a transplanted organ; these treatments make individuals vulnerable to infection and, therefore, antibiotics have to be used to reduce the threat. Also, antibiotics are administered as a prophylactic prior to countless types of surgeries and operations, and are used when performing C-sections and prostate biopsies. While treatable for decades, the ability of antibiotics to be useful more recently has diminished and/or become extinguished for some conditions. Without antibiotic drugs, physicians will become unwilling to perform increasing numbers of operations and procedures.

In summary, opponents of the handshake have demonstrated concerns about the germs that are passed by what otherwise would seem an ordinary action. They identify the serious consequences when bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. In addition to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the fact 80% of all antibiotics are used on farm animals.  To varying degrees chickens, cows and pigs in the United States, and fish and shrimp in foreign countries, are given regular doses of antibiotics to protect them from disease, but also to increase their weight and speed their growth.

Because now is a time of concern about drug-resistant bacteria and almost untreatable infections (such as MRSA), the proponents of fist bumping are making a concerted effort to show how it can lead to decreased transmission of bacteria and hence fewer colds and infections. Then, less reliance can be had on antibiotics and in turn a more healthy society. Is fist bumping a better alternative to a handshake?