It’s a dilemma many people face this time of year, because of their fear of germs. In fact, a new survey shows that half of us are “reluctant” to shake hands during cold and flu season, because we worry that if we shake hands with someone who’s sick, we’ll be catching germs, and increasing our own risk of getting sick. That’s why you may see more people offering fist-bumps – or hello waves - instead of handshakes these days.

So, are handshakes really dangerous? According to new research in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, “NO!”  Because it turns out, the benefits of shaking hands far outweigh the risks.

For starters: MRI scans show that a firm, friendly handshake lights up the reward centers of our brain – meaning, it makes us feel good. Plus, when we shake hands with a stranger, it stimulates our brain in a way that makes us form a better impression of the other person. And get this: Researchers say even if that person later insults us, the fact that we shook hands with them improves the odds that we’ll walk away with a more positive attitude!

Why would that happen?  Because in ancient times, handshakes originated as a signal of peace, because extending open hand showed that you weren’t carrying a weapon! And we have that same positive perception today.

So, what about the people carrying germs instead of a weapon? Relax, because research from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health shows that our risk of getting sick from a germy handshake are very low.  In other words: Go ahead and shake hands!