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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.


Vikas Gupta said...

dude! I have bookmarked many of your articles including your top ones!

Will read this later and will surely comment on it.

Just writing to ensure that your top post gets its first comment. Will soon be here to write a second one!

Vikas Gupta said...

This is really a nice article on clapping. I rarely clap, to be honest, and have my hands almost always resting in my pockets! If I have really clapped, it could only mean that it must be some awesome performance.

Followed almost all the links (including the one that should not be named!). I plan to do a post on 'the one that should not be named' but am not able to muster the courage.

The video was awesome! Will watch more of the videos (including the slowest clapper) when I have time.

I think you should consider writing for Mutiny, DesiPundit, Sepia Mutiny, Desicritics and the like.

Will read more of your posts later of course.

Ashish Gupta said...

Thou shall not loose courage in telling the truth however bitter (or stinky) it may be!

Vikas Gupta said...


Check out my latest post dude (or may be you did)! I am feeling very uncomfortable about it though!

Anonymous said...

My guess is that clapping originated with someone paying folks to applaude to boost attendences at performances. Find the custom annoying, would prefer to sit in silence and grok the experience.

Ashish Gupta said...

@Anon: But then you already assume that clapping at performance means showing appreciation, precisely something this post pondered.

jessica said...

I've also wondered about the whole "instinct" to clap as it pertains to babies. I have twins, and, interestingly enough, one "claps" by tapping his left hand on the top of his right forearm. Now, he's never seen this gesture, and we, of course, do not clap like this; we try to "correct" his clapping, but he insists on clapping like this! (He's 17 months old.) His twin brother claps the way you and I do, and does not mimic the behavior. Interesting, to say the least.

Michael Shea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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