High Fives correlation with team bonding and success


Can a pat on the back, a fist bump or a high five help you win? Conservatives and common sense may tell you no, a research study made by two scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, will tell you otherwise.

Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner studied every team in the NBA in the 2008-09 season and got to the conclusion that who touches the most wins the most. In the 2008-09 season the “touchers”, “highfivers”, as you wish, were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics, 3rd best record of the league, reached the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Lakers, 2nd best record of the league, did win the title.

We still don’t have an extensive data that can prove the total correlation between pats, fist bumps or high-fives and winning, however the short amount of data collected so far led us to believe there’s a connection.

‘‘Touch predicts performance through fostering cooperation between teammates,’’ says Dacher Keltner, professor of social psychology at University of California Berkeley. ‘‘You can communicate really important emotions like gratitude, compassion, love, and anger just through brief touches.’’

On the 2011 NBA Finals according to the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Mavericks had 250 “instances of televised contact”, in counterpart the Miami Heat had 134. Do you still remember who won those Finals, right? The Dallas “touchy” Mavericks.

“Touch instills trust,” Keltner said. “It contagiously spreads good will; it makes players play better on behalf of each other.”

According to Kraus and Keltner, obviously this kind of human interaction doesn’t only occur in sports. It’s an everyday ritual. Touch makes us release the oxytocin in the brain, a chemical that induces trust. So almost every time you’re giving a pat on the back to a co-worker, you’re letting him know you trust him. Well, kind of. “That pat on the back will engage a lot of these processes and makes the person want to do better at work,” said Keltner.

Studies conducted by the University of California have shown that waitresses who touch customers get better tips, doctors who touch patients receive more favorable reviews, and petition-gatherers who touch passersby get more signatures. Interesting, right?

“I think there’s a correlation, definitely” said Jared Sullinger, who last played for the Toronto Raptors. “That means you’re outside yourself. You’re all about the team, and you are just constantly celebrating the little things.’’

Touching has increased in sports recently and Berkeley researchers start recording fist-bumps, high-fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low-fives, high-tens, and hugs.

Some people counter-argument, defending that of course winning teams touch teammates the most because they’re winning, so there’s more to celebrate. There’s logic and that’s true. Nevertheless, winning teams not only touch teammates for celebration purposes but also as a commiseration, empathy, trust and encouragement: “I got your back man”, “You got this” kind of touch.

On the 2009-10 season the Phoenix Suns start getting track of former two times MVP Steve Nash touches per game. The number was revealing and surprising: 239 touches per game! The Suns finished 3rd in the West that season.

Phoenix Suns head-coach Earl Watson surprised everyone early this season saying that’s a stat they’re taking in consideration: We have a high-five stat. “I’m being honest with you. This is true. So we want to keep track of how many high-fives we get per game to each other.” Watson, altogether with the study of Kraus and Keltner, found that teams who tend to have more contact are also the teams who are helping more on defense, setting more and better screens and playing with more cooperation.

Now do everyone a favor and go pat your fellow colleague on the back more often, will you? It’s not me who’s asking, is science.