Fiddling with a mobile phone while chatting, or dining with friends, is generally considered the height of bad manners.
But a Cambridge psychoanalyst has claimed that tinkering with objects is nothing new and humans need to have something in their hands to feel comfortable during social interactions.
Darian Leader, author of Hands: What do we do with them and why?, says that in the past snuff boxes, gloves and fans were all used as props to help people feel at ease when communicating.
He believes that the objects act as an abstract barrier by which it is possible to avoid coming too close to another person.
“Just as there are an extraordinary number of tablets and phones now, so there have always been a massive number of hand-held objects which have kept people’s hands busy,” Leader told the Hay Festival in Wales.