How Hugs, Handshakes, and High-Fives Impact Performance and Teamwork


According to an article in a New Zealand newspaper, hugging can reduce stress, fear, anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and boost memory, but only if it’s from someone you know and trust. However, if the hug is from a stranger or from someone you don’t trust, or don’t like, then the effect is the exact opposite. This really puts a damper on those hugs you see in high school where a boy just grabs a random girl and hugs her.

A NY Times Op-Ed talks about how kids who were hugged often by their parents were more likely to graduate from high school and that hugging can be an effective anti-poverty intervention for at-risk pre-K students. A LA Times Op-Ed piece talks about the struggle between professional distance (being a doctor) and the power of hugging.

In light of all this research, and having grown up Italian: I just want to say- Hugs- I like em. Now I can’t really go around hugging HS students in need, but I CAN give them a handshake before, or during class when I see that we need some instant rapport and trust.

According to a MIT study on hugging, a handshake before an interaction (like teaching a lesson) will make the recipient more likely to trust and listen to the hand-shaker and LESS likely to avoid whatever they are trying to tell you. So greeting students at the door with a handshake, when possible, is never a bad idea. I like to give out the old “hand-hug” whenever I see a student tense or down in the dumps… or give them a bit of chocolate or food- a stressed student is a difficult student to reach. You may want to read this blog post about how we can learn about student engagement from the Star Wars movies.

This power of hugging even extends to athletic performance and teamwork. Just this morning I read an article on Baseball Prospectus, my daily read before I get out of bed, on how the ritual of touch in the form of high fives affect not only feelings of belonging, but can actually affect on the field, or in the case of basketball, on the court, performance. 

This idea resonated with our staff so much that we started a “challenge” this year where teachers tried to shake hands or fist bump every kid as they walked into class for the first month of school. Click on the link to watch the video and think about what this means for your workplace, school, or team.

high five2

Image cropped and modified by an original image by Kyle James

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