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. It had certainly caught on by the time of the Roman Empire. That's 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. There were 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 (88)
  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/20/2015 - 08:50 p.m.

    I think that it is cool because it is impossible that when people started clapping if the first human appeared to earth, but nobody knows for sure how humans first started clapping during the ancient time on earth but some scientist thought when people saw primates clap their hands, they start clapping their hands too. Well if people thought when they see the word applause, that means to clap for somebody on stage.

  • MaggieM-3
    3/21/2015 - 04:48 p.m.

    Applaus is not a natural behavior and it must be learned. No one knows exactly when the round of applause became a common way for showing approval. It is a wide spread behavior and dates back to ancient times. During the Roman Empire audiences would clap snap or wave the edge of their togas to express their opinions on what they were watching. Also some Roman rulers would pay people to clap in an audience so they could change audiences opinions on show and change the mood of the show. Other primates also have adopted the habit of clapping. Gorillas, Orangutans and Chimps also do tis for attention. Mostly only humans clap however and it is strange learned habit that humans don't do without being told.
    I think that it is very strange someone long ago must have decided that to express their opinion they would slap their hands together. It must have been received very strangely at the time and taken a strange person to come up with such a preposterous idea.

  • KageF-Kut
    3/21/2015 - 07:55 p.m.

    I've always wondered what the origin of applause was. Based on my prior knowledge I know that the Roman Empire goes back thousands of years so applause must be a very ancient ritual.

  • RyanD-Kut
    3/22/2015 - 02:56 p.m.

    I Think it would be very interesting to find out how clapping started. If apes,monkeys, and other animals related to humans know how to clap it will help aid the search for how clapping started.

  • CassidyP-Kut
    3/22/2015 - 07:44 p.m.

    I would be surprised if they figure it out I think came from. It probably came from thousands of years ago and no one lives that long. I've never really knew what clopping really meant well I kind of did but Lake not that kind away so I know it means like joy and happiness and so people clap all around the world so i would say that it came from a very populated country and so it would go out and pass on

  • ShahrbanoR-Kut
    3/22/2015 - 08:22 p.m.

    I find it really cool and fascinating that clapping comes natural to people. I also think that it's really cool that animals such as monkeys are clapping for something like getting attention from other animals or even something else. This makes me wonder that if people didn't clap back then if clapping would be a thing now. Clapping is a pretty big part of life so I wonder what would happen with out clapping, maybe stomping, the louder the stomp, the better something is

  • NoahB-Kut
    3/22/2015 - 09:51 p.m.

    I honestly find that clapping your hands was started anciently a myth. I do believe in the part when clapping your hands was invented, but as something we call ancient i find that hard to believe.

  • joshz-Koc
    3/23/2015 - 01:37 a.m.

    it's funny how clapping started from Romans trying to get their leader to acknowledge them. One would Imagine that it started from people respecting or cheering on, one and another.

  • ImanB-1
    3/23/2015 - 10:24 a.m.

    No one was when people first started clapping, but it's been going on since ancient times. In the Roman Empire, people would clap to let rulers know where everything had to be. Some people would actually clapped for dinner to try to get everyone else to clap. An applause is clapping for joy or approval, but it is a learned behavior. I didn't know that an applause was a learned behavior!

  • cyrust-Sch
    3/23/2015 - 11:14 a.m.

    I learned something very new about clapping and how we learn to clap. It is so cool how we learn to clap on our own it is so amazing really how to learn to clap on our own.

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