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Applause Can Be Contagious

How enthusiastically you clap can be strongly influenced by the volume and frequency of the audience clapping around you. Amy Kraft reports

Applause is a sign of appreciation after a good performance. Right? Actually, a new study finds that how enthusiastically you clap can be strongly influenced by the volume and frequency of the audience clapping around you.

To test how applauding behavior spreads in groups, researchers filmed six different sets of university students who were told to clap after listening to an academic lecture.

The videos showed that people were strongly swayed by other audience members, or even by just one particularly influential clapper. Applause incidents averaged 9-15 claps per person, but would swell to as many as 30 claps solely based on an individual applause leader. The spasm stopped in much the same way: when one person ceased clapping it triggered a larger group dynamic.

The study is in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and is part of a larger effort to understand social behavior and how it can spread within a group. [Richard P. Mann et al., The dynamics of audience applause]

So the next time you see a dull performance, remember, the desire to hold back on clapping might be out of your hands.

—Amy Kraft

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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