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Why a medieval gesture of trust might not last in a socially distant future

How handshakes build trust – and how COVID-19 has changed how we say hello.

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.
With AAA Insurance as our partner, Vox Creative tackles the topic of trust to better understand where it comes from, and how it shapes our world. Watch, listen, and read more on Why We Trust.

For centuries, shaking hands has stood the test of time as a gesture of trust. But in a post-pandemic world, trust may not be signified with physical touch, especially when it comes to meeting strangers. So will the handshake go the way of, say, the curtsey? And if so, what will take its place?

Centuries ago, it’s likely that medieval knights grasped one another’s hands upon meeting in order to prove they were unarmed. Cut to modern day, when “shaking on it” in Western culture is more or less second nature. A handshake agreement — one built on mutual trust — is even named from the gesture.

One complicated factor in “replacing” the handshake is that it doesn’t just signify trust; the element of physical touch can actually create trust, chemically. According to research from DePauw University, holding someone’s hand can decrease the stress hormone cortisol, increase the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, and make the “orbital frontal cortex light up” the way that eating a bar of chocolate does. One study even found that the more athletes high-five or hug their teammates, the better their game.

The good news is, there’s a long precedent of building trust without physical touch. Take the antiquated tradition of “letters of recommendation,” in which travelers would bear a letter from a mutual acquaintance that would, in essence, say: “You can trust this person. I trust them, and you trust me.” Granted, this was in a time before a reliable postal system, telegrams, or emails. But it worked — the property of transference can apply for trustworthiness: which brings us to AAA Insurance and their heritage of trusted service. AAA Insurance has a long history of helping people in times of need all across the country — just one reason why they are one of the most trusted brands in America.

To find out more about how AAA Insurance can help you protect what matters most to you, visit AAA.com/insurance.

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