A new study claims that applause is not necessarily based on great performance, but rather spreads like a social contagion.
Researchers in Sweden have found that how long people clap for depends on members of the crowd.
"You can get quite different lengths of applause — even if you have the same quality of performance," said study author Richard Mann, from the University of Uppsala. "This is purely coming from the dynamics of the people in the crowd."
The study recorded university students as they watched a Powerpoint presentation (not something that normally earns applause, but hey, this is Sweden).
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The students didn't know they were being recorded as they clapped during various parts of the presentation.
Mann broke down the clapping times using mathematical models to find out that people are highly influenced by others.
"People in the audience didn't make an independent choice about how good the talk was and then clap an appropriate number of times," Mann told AFP.
"Instead, they responded very predictably to the social pressure around them, which we believe they felt through the volume of clapping in the room."
The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.