Monkey see, monkey do

Are we done with handshakes? Not quite, according to chimps

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Ah, the handshake. We ditched it for the most part due to Covid-19, but we may not be able to shake this style of greeting indefinitely.

Bate via Giphy

Shaking hands is deeply ingrained in human culture, perhaps more than we realize. Our close cousins, chimpanzees, use handshakes to communicate too — indicating that the behavior is part of our shared evolutionary history.

Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen

To tease out the importance of handshakes, a new study in Biology Letters takes a deep dive into hand grasping behavior among chimpanzees over the course of 12 years.

Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen

Hand grasping is a common behavior, often happening when chimps groom each other. But despite how common it is, it isn’t well understood.

Here’s a pair of the apes locking hands as they tidy up:

Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen

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These handshake behaviors are widespread, yet separate groups of chimps have preferences dictating how they grasp hands with their neighbors.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens via Giphy

Some prefer grasping each other’s hands, palm to palm, while others grab each other by the forearm, for example.

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These differences reflect the slightly distinct kinds of handshakes we humans practice depending on where we are from in the world.

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As the chimps’ social groups changed over time, they held onto their habits, suggesting that their handshake style is a cultural norm for their group.

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This suggests hand grasping behaviors are learned socially, as opposed to a biological trait.

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It also lends weight to the idea that animals have social cultures and traditions — just like humans do.

Read more stories about animals here.

Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen

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