Applause appears to be a basic and natural need on the part of listeners and spectators at many types of performance, but despite the very simple procedure involved in clapping, the phenomenon is highly complex. Applause can demonstrate the most varied things and, in an essential way, bridge over any gaps between the stage and public. Applause is always public, always happens in the collective and has symbolic meaning.

The focus of this research is on questions of the relationship between the mass and the individual, between collectivity and delimitation: How does applause begin, and how does it end? Why do individuals applaud? When and how quickly does a person decide whether to clap? And are people aware it usually makes no difference whether a person applauds or not? Questions regarding applause’s social role also emerge here, above all in respect to sharply regulated, restrictive contexts such as the classical concert, where applause is the only desired form of audience expression. Here clapping seems to correspond to a physical need to process collective emotions and to the desire to “loosen up” after sitting still. In this situation, applause may take on a normative role, of which the audience may not be aware.

This research considers the complex phenomenon of applause within the disciplinary frameworks of music sociology, empirical research, social and civilizational history, anthropology, and aesthetics.


Toelle, J. (2018). Applaus (Akustische Phänomene V.1). In D. Morat/ H. Ziemer (Hrsg.), Handbuch Sound. Geschichte – Begriffe – Ansätze, Verlag J.B. Metzler: Stuttgart/ Weimar.