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When I was a kid, I was friends with a boy who could clap really loudly. Like, really really loudly. He could clap with such force that it became his thing. Even through high school, whenever people I knew would find themselves in a situation where reception was less than overwhelming, someone would invariably say, “Where’s Chad when you need him?” On more than a few occasions, I wondered how he was able to accrue that skill, but at no point did I ever wonder why he clapped.
Popular YouTube channel V Sauce, however, wonders about such things. This week, host Michael decided to pose the question to figure out why human beings feel the need to offer one another applause as a sign of approval, and like every other issue he’s tackled, the results are utterly fascinating. You’ll need to watch the whole thing to get the full explanation, as well as all the standard deviations, but basically, researchers theorize that clapping began as a natural outpouring of excess emotion, as an impulse to make noise.
Over the years, however, that outpouring of excess emotion has been altered by societal norms and expectations. Now, some scientists think applause is more closely related to the tone and energy of the overall crowd as opposed to actual response to what’s happening. The crowd itself is like one living, breathing being with an ability to create something loud and beautiful, or, to collectively express disapproval.
Take the National Anthem at Chicago Blackhawks games as an example. Singer Jim Cornelison might be one of the best in the business, but he’s not so good on a nightly basis as to make fans begin cheering in the middle of the song. So, why does he get cheered throughout the song when he belts out his rendition? Well, Hawks fans applaued once during the 1980s, and the tradition just stuck. Now, a combination of fans who are well aware of the tradition and others who want to be part of the crowd follow suit every single time.
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Wherever applause originated and whether crowds should be thought of as a living, breathing organism or not, what is undeniable is that clapping for someone really does make them feel appreciated and loved. Here’ to hoping we all find plenty of reasons to use our hands to show approval in the future.