Chances of being applauded dwindle with isolation. It is unsatisfying to applaud yourself. There should be other people who find you worthy of applause. People applaud to physically show their approval of something or someone. It is a social act, stemming from the need to send messages to others. Perhaps its use of hands, simultaneously intimate and distant, makes the applause an appropriate custom for most people. Unlike a kiss, which uses an outrageously sensitive part of the body, an applause comfortably makes use of one’s own hands, without the need to touch another’s.

Many of us have been a part of an applause before. But it is rare to know you have started one. That rarity could just be because it’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of an applause. Applauses start and end following social cues that many instinctively note. (As a side note, applause may not always end for all people: In medicine an ‘applause sign’ refers to a failure to cease clapping with instruction, signalling cognitive, motor impairment*) Courtesy applause follows a guest lecture, providing it adhered to norms. Enthusiastic or unexpected applause happens when the audience is left in awe of something – or if they are desperate to escape confinement. Either way, the applause is a “social contagion” that spreads among a crowd as people adjust behaviours to suit others [1]. Starting applauses should be a suave application of social cues.

I remember starting an applause for no good reason. I was not even enthusiastic about the speaker. I was actually frustrated with the turn of events that led to that moment, but I had started an applause anyway. Here, I missed a social cue and started clapping slightly ahead of time. Fortunately, my peers followed me, but I was stuck in the role of applause leader and had to feign enthusiasm for something that annoyed me. I was furious that I had accidentally started that applause.

Returning back to my opening wrath of a scarce applause, apparently there are trends found in who receives more applause. In one study, speakers whose body movements were viewed as more dominant, more extraverted, but less agreeable, received more applause [2].

I wonder if having one third of those traits will conjure one third of the applause.


Check it out:


For the more medically inclined, this study looks at the presence of the ‘applause sign’ in patients with Parkinson’s disease


This is a real study of applause, replete with mathematical models.


This study makes crafty use of stick-figure animations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s