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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

History and Psychology of Clapping

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Recent series of guest lecture in a class left me wondering about clapping. Thing is that while many students are disinterested during the lecture, they wake up just at right moment to clap: at introduction of speaker and at end of lecture. I wondered if it is natural for us to clap at such occasion or it is culturally learned. Corollary to that was question whether babies know clapping instinctively? More I thought about it, more I was surprised that how odd this ritual of clapping is. After all, clap is nothing but violent way of striking skin of palm with another palm to create loud noise. Brief search on internet failed to settle the nature versus nurture origin of clapping but I at least found one more curious person like me.

Various references (Ask Yahoo!, MadSci Network, wiseGeek, Birkbeck College) points to the following clapping related tidbits:
  1. Clapping bears origin to primal nature of striking, stomping during excitement.
  2. Clapping as means to show appreciation has been from as early as middle ages.
  3. Clapping is not universal symbol of applause or appreciation.
  4. Babies clap instinctively when they respond to light, sound or action.
  5. Clapping after, or in anticipation of, performance is culturally acquired trait.
  6. Clapping at middle of performance is not universally acceptable, specially in high concentration performances such as music or plays.
  7. True clapping is more than mere striking palms
    [It] aims to compress and explode a little bubble or bomb of air, compressing and accelerating the air momentarily trapped between the palms…and while children do it early on, they takes time to do it properly
  8. Clapping is said to be induce pleasurable hormones in brain and can be helpful to autistic people and victims of burns.
  9. There is difference between clap of single person and clapping of a crowd.
    A single clap is convulsive and climactic. It marks a precipitate change of state, a coming to completion, or a new beginning, or a reversal: in all cases, a sudden, sharp interruption to the steady unrolling of time. Clapping draws a line in time, as in the ‘clapperboard’ which divides up scenes in film-making. Collective clapping, by contrast, is convergent and conjunctive. Rather than intensifying time, it thickens and spreads it. One might say that the single clap temporalises time, takes a featureless space of time and exposes it to temporality by concentrating it into an instantly diffused instant, while collective clapping slows or arrests the passage of time, forming it into a mass, or durative volume. The clap enacts instantaneity; applause enacts extension.


Last articles (Birkbeck College) goes on to analyze group psychology of applause, which completely went over my head. That said, it is still surprising that we don’t know much about this oddity of ours and have come to ingrain clapping so much so that one claps even if one couldn’t care less.

And some have made clapping an art in itself. Following fellow holds world record in clapping by clapping at speed of 14 per second. See it to believe it.

(YouTube link)


I don't want to spoil your mood, but while writing about clapping, I remembered another topic of same type. Not wanting to publish another post merely to link an article, I am adding it here. I know it sounds funny, but seriously, this link does have all you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about....farts. And believe me, it's not gross.
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