Handshake makes all the difference — even with a robot

A handshake makes all the difference — even with a robot, a study has found.

Shaking hands before negotiations results in a better deal for both parties — even when one is represented by a robot.

The act of shaking hands at the start of a conversation has already been shown to create better co-operation and trust between humans.

Research has now found these benefits extend when a robot takes the place of a human — who is situated remotely — during a business meeting.

Scientists say using robots provides a powerful two-way experience that allows people to have a physical presence in a distant place unlike using Skype or video conferencing.

Developing such interaction could lead to robots conducting business meetings or allowing people with severely limited mobility to interact with the world in a unique way.

The study, by the University of Bath, used NAO, a 58-cm tall humanoid robot which was designed to be a companion around the house, in fake property negotiations.

One person, assigned the role of buyer or seller, was present in the meeting with NAO while the other took part in the meeting through the robot’s inbuilt head camera and microphone.

Touch sensitive sensors in the robot’s hand transmitted a signal when it was grasped, leading to a controller in the remote person’s hand vibrate at the same time.

Results showed that the act of shaking hands was as important when people interacted virtually through the robot as when they met face-to-face. The remote person, who could be thousands of miles away and essentially hidden from view, did not exploit their tactical advantage in such conditions.

Researcher Chris Bevan, of the University of Bath’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 cooperate. Using a robotic avatar, we were able to demonstrate that this effect holds true even when a person cannot see the face of their counterpart.”

The study focused on the impact of handshaking on levels of cooperation, trustworthiness, and willingness to deliberately mislead. Mock negotiations were set up with 120 people, each involving two participants who were randomly assigned to the role of buyer or seller, in a fake property scenario.

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