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Publication Date

Spring 2019

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Cheryl Chancellor-Freeland


cortisol, mood, physical contact, social support, stress

Subject Areas



Human touch is a means of communication with the external world, and studies report that physical contact may promote well-being, provide encouragement and mitigate daily stressors. Even hand-to-hand contact in the form of a handshake may reduce stress hormones, although the impact of a simple handshake on stress-induced cortisol has not yet been investigated. To examine this, 136 participants were assigned to one of four conditions: control, stress only, stress with handshake and confederate interaction, or stress with confederate interaction but no handshake. We predicted that a handshake between strangers before a stressor would reduce physiological stress. We also predicted that a handshake would be associated with a reduction in negative mood. A standardized stress-inducing task, the TSST, was used for the treatment groups. Mood ratings were taken to examine negative mood, and saliva samples were collected to assess the physiological marker of stress, cortisol. Results revealed significant differences in cortisol between conditions such that a handshake significantly reduced cortisol in the stress handshake condition relative to stress alone. Anger and depression scores were significantly negatively correlated to cortisol. However, anger, depression and tension did not differ significantly as a function of the handshake or confederate interaction conditions. The findings suggest that even a brief handshake in a professional setting can reduce physiological stress. However, other variables mediating the impact of stress on negative affect may explain the unexpected findings for anger depression and tension.