What is the origin of applause? (Thinkstock)
What is the origin of applause?
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You asked us, what is the origin of applause?

Well, it's impossible to know exactly when people first started clapping, though it's definitely an ancient and widespread behavior and it had certainly caught on by the time of the Roman Empire, when crowds would clap, snap, and wave the edge of their togas to let rulers know exactly where things stood.

Some of those rulers weren't above hiring professionals, either, people who literally clapped for their dinner to manipulate crowd reactions.

Speaking of trained monkeys, we're not the only species that put our hands together. Other great apes like gorillas, chimps and orangutans sometimes clap their hands to draw attention.

But applause -- clapping as a sign of approval or joy -- is actually a learned behavior, and for the most part, it seems to be limited to humans.

Bravo to us humans. For more stories like this, check us out every day at Smithsonian.com.


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COMMENTS (26)
  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    3/24/2015 - 01:31 p.m.

    I had never really thought about the origins of clapping for people and it is pretty interesting to read this article and find out how much is put behind making things.

  • Blaker-2
    3/27/2015 - 12:54 a.m.

    No one knows when exactly that people started applauding for joy and approval. In the roman empire is when it probably first used. I thought that this article was interesting because it is looking at something that me never really think about.

  • CharismaM
    3/29/2015 - 02:43 p.m.

    I've never really thought about the origin of clapping, but i would like to know when it started. I guess I never really had thought about it because it's been around for so long and I was used to it.

  • MadisonSch
    3/30/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    I would think that clapping would come from ancient,but would never think that it is a thing. Like it is not a thing where you realize like other things that are much bigger than clapping.

  • EmmaBender
    3/30/2015 - 01:55 p.m.

    I never thought of the origin of clapping or an applause. It's cool that it started from way back in ancient time and it has grown through out.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    3/31/2015 - 09:46 p.m.

    It seems to me that humans are always changing the meaning of something. However, if you think about it, applause nowadays can still be used to get attention. Patty-cake, trying to be the last clap, or just doing it randomly are all examples of this. We as humans, however, do not register it as a form of attention because we are so used to it as being a sign of either the end of a performance or sign of sarcasm. We do not realize anything special about clapping; we just do it because we're supposed to, not because we want to.

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