Clapping influenced more by peer pressure than by concert
Have you ever attended a concert or show, and wondered why everyone is clapping so enthusiastically? The performers just were not that good! A new study reveals that all that applause has more to do with the audience than with the performance.
Researchers at Uppsala University (what is it about that place?) filmed students at Leeds University applauding after presentations by other students, and looked for what sparked all the clapping. According to their report in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, they saw that people were more willing to start clapping if a large group had already started. For example, people were 10 times more likely to clap if half of the audience was clapping than if just 5 percent were clapping. It worked in reverse, too; fewer applauders meant fewer people joined in.
In addition, just hearing the applause coerced more people to start clapping, and it wasn’t necessary to even see the audience. It also wasn’t necessary for the performance to be any good. People clapped just as readily for a bad performance as for a good one.
The study is one of a few that have compared audience applause to a contagion, in which a reaction starts on a small level, and then transmits to a neighbor, then another, followed by another. So, the next time you are in a wildly cheery audience, you may be watching the mechanisms of a disease instead of a great performance.
Mann, R., Faria, J., Sumpter, D., & Krause, J. (2013). The dynamics of audience applause Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 10 (85), 20130466-20130466 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2013.0466