The scientific investigation found that when two people who are located thousands of miles apart communicate through a robot – including physically shaking hands with the machine – co-operation and mutual understanding is developed.
Researchers at the University of Bath set up mock house-sale negotiations using Nao, a 23in-tall humanoid robot designed to accompany people around the property.
A total of 120 human participants were involved and each was randomly assigned the role of buyer or seller – one person was present in the meeting with Nao, while the other took part remotely, through the robot’s built-in camera and microphone.
Sensors in the Nao’s hand transmitted a signal when it was grasped, making a controller in the distant person’s hand vibrate at the same time.
The experiment tested how participants behaved when they did or didn’t engage in a virtual handshake and results showed that the act was actually as important when people interacted virtually through the robot as when people negotiate face to face.
The “virtual” handshake created a sense of “connectedness” between both people as they experienced the sensation of grasping a hand, or vibration through a controller during the handshake, said the research team – they even revealed that estate agents were less likely to treat each other unfairly if they’d engaged in a handshake of some sort.
Dr Chris Bevan, of the university’s department of psychology, said: “This experiment highlights just how important the symbolic ritual of shaking hands is upon the way people come to judge others as being trustworthy and willing to co-operate.”
Experts say the discovery could provoke a revolution in the practice of conducting video conferences and Skype interviews.
The traditional handshake may have come under scrutiny in recent years for being outdated and unhygienic but a new study has found that the age-old backbone of business etiquette is still an effective trust builder in an increasingly modernised world.