Never really gave this much thought but obviously some people do. According to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, it appears that clapping is contagious. A lot of people including me, assumed that it was merely a means of showing our enthusiasm and appreciation for a performance.
According to Richard Mann, a mathematics teacher at Uppsala University in Sweden, this type of behavior can be initiated by one or two (or more presumably) people who decide to clap for whatever reason. Seems that once a few people begin the clapping process, everyone suddenly feels the necessity to join in. Sort of a giant clap-in. Thinking further about this, one - me - wonders if it would be applicable while clapping to keep one's fingers from going numb in cold weather.
Let's say you're standing at a bus stop in freezing cold weather, waiting in line along with a dozen or so people for the bus or train or whatever to arrive. A clapping motion is initiated by one person to keep the fingers from going numb, would others do the same thing? Is it also applicable to feet stomping? Anyone know? But I digress.
Mann and his colleagues arrived at this conclusion having researched how birds move in flocks and fish swim in schools. Not sure how this is applicable to humans but then who am I. To test the theory, a group of 13 to 20 students were placed in an audience and told to watch a short presentation given by another student (wonder how many of them were texting...just saying). The students were filmed while watching the speech after being instructed to applaud once the speech was over since the speaker was a volunteer. After repeating the experiment six times with different audiences, the conclusion drawn was that the act of clapping is precipitated (love that word) by the amount of people around who initiate the clapping. Furthermore and statistically, the first person started clapping 2.1 seconds following the presentation and the entire room was clapping by 2.9 seconds.
While this is - well - interesting, one wonders how people get grants for this type of study. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, how does human kind benefit? Perhaps theatre producers, TV and film people might find the end results interesting and possibly useful but what does it do for you and me? Thinking further, I've been to theatre performances and movies where a few people suddenly feel the urge to clap and were told by the audience vociferously to refrain from any further clapping movement.
The ultimate goal, according to Mann, is to expand their research to more complex behaviors. Taking it one step further, perhaps at some point in the future, somebody will research the effect of coughing and whether a coughing fit can cause a mass cough-out. We all know - okay... I read it somewhere - that extensive yawning in public causes people within the viewing range of the yawn-er to do the same thing.
Speaking or writing about contagious yawning, Wikipedia shares on their write-up of yawning, "A study by the University of London has suggested that the "contagiousness" of yawns by a human will pass to dogs. The study observed that 21 of 29 dogs yawned when a stranger yawned in front of them, but did not yawn when the stranger only opened his mouth. A recent study from Lund University showed that dogs, like humans, develop a susceptibility to contagious yawning gradually, and that while dogs above 7 months 'catch' yawns from humans, younger dogs are immune to contagion.[The study also indicated that nearly half of the dogs responded to the human's yawn by becoming relaxed and sleepy, suggesting that the dogs copied not just the yawn, but also the physical state that yawns typically reflect." This is stuff you want (not necessarily need) to know, people!
I clap. You clap. We all clap but in the end, do we care why we do?