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May I add to Dr Porter's fascinating hypothesis (May 2001 JRSM, pp. 236-237)? He draws attention to the non-thermal sweating of the palms and mentions that ‘strangely’ palmar sweating is prompted by anxiety. Imagine the long-running hunter bringing the quarry to bay and the ‘fight’ reaction setting in: a rapid rise in circulating adrenalin and the now moist palms giving a better grip on whatever weapon is in use; and in the event of counter-attack these sweaty palms also giving a better grip on, say, tree branches used for escape.
That moist palms are better grippers was well known to manual workers of an earlier generation who would often be seen to spit on their hands before grasping a sledge hammer, road breakers' pick or similar heavy hand tool.