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Why Do We Clap?

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"It's such a crude, messy noise."

"If you're happy and you know it... ." Most would be able to complete this popular children's song with "clap your hands," but have you ever wondered just why we clap our hands as an expression of joy or support?

The YouTube channel VSauce, which delves into the world's "mind-blowing facts," has more than you probably ever wanted to know about the scientific observations and history of clapping, but it's fascinating none the less.

The average person claps about two-and-a-half to five claps per second, transforming kinetic energy into acoustic energy.

clapping VSauce noted studies that show babies learn their hands can work together to produce sound, but parents have to teach them to associate this type of noise with joy or celebration. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

But why do we clap when we can express ourselves with our voice in a more specific manner.

"If vocalizations can be so finely controlled," making actual notes, VSauce says, "why clap?"

"It's such a crude, messy noise," he continued.

The impulse to clap, VSauce speculates, could have resulted from an "overflowing of enthusiasm."

He calls it an "immediate and primitive reaction to excitement."

This might answer how clapping is almost an involuntary response, but VSauce then wonders how it became an expected social behavior for certain situations, known as applause.

Clapping in studies has been labeled as a "great equalizer." Various traits of the clapper, like gender or size, are not easily guessed.

"Clapping could have become the standard non-verbal gesture of admiration because it is arguably the loudest, the easiest and the most democratic," VSauce says.

Clapping is an action that is easy for everyone to do and is not as disruptive as other gestures.

As early as the sixth century BC, clapping was instated as a civic duty for people to collectively give praise while greeting their leader. VSauce notes how professional clappers attended early operas, knowing exactly when to clap in order to then coax the rest of the crowd into doing so as well.

VSauce even goes a step further wondering what the future holds for clapping. If clapping is generally something socially imposed by a crowd, VSauce notes how modern day activities that once drew crowds are now often done alone. Take going to a concert versus listening to songs whenever you want on the Internet, for example.

New entertainment is "increasingly consumed like books, in solitude alone," according to VSauce. We don't generally applaud when we're by ourselves, but we do "like" or share things that we support on the Internet in various ways.

Likes and favorites online join a collective gesture "as a sort of digital applause," VSauce says.

Watch VSauce's whole episode analyzing the origins and future of clapping:

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

(H/T: GeekOSystem)

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