A landmark, new study reveals that the duration and intensity of applause after a performance is in fact a "social contagion." What does this tell us about group team building?
It's widely held that behavior can be contagious within a social group. Laughter, panic, angst, and a wide range of other emotions can quickly overtake a crowd of people. A new study, however, indicates that applause is yet another type of "social contagion" -- and that the duration and intensity of applause has more to do with the behavior of the group, and not the performance itself.
This study, which is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface
, was conduced in order to better understand the complexities of clapping, and how applause -- a decidedly more complex human behavior than the previously-noted emotions -- still behaves as a social contagion. Lead author Dr Richard Mann, from the University of Uppsala, believe that applause reveals how ideas and actions gain and lose momentum, and that the complex social operation of clapping can also speak to how trends catch on (or fail to catch on, as it were).
Dr. Mann explains in, a recent article from the BBC:
"The pressure comes from the volume of clapping in the room rather than what your neighbour sitting next to you is doing," explained Dr Mann. But the performance that had been witnessed - no matter how brilliant - had little effect on the duration of the noisy acclaim. In fact, the researchers found the duration of applause varied greatly.
Dr Mann told BBC News: "In one case an audience might clap on average 10 times per person. Another time they might clap three times as long. And all that comes from is that you have this social pressure to start (clapping), but once you've started there's an equally strong social pressure not to stop, until someone initiates that stopping."
It's interesting to note that ultimately it is social pressure that dictates the level and intensity of applause -- that it has little to do with the quality of a performance. In this way, the "first movers" of a group play a critical role in applause; are there a few "leader" personality types in the group who are willing to begin and sustain a high level of applause? Conversely, are these same "first movers" also those who, should they choose not to applaud, or do so for a short amount of time, will quell the overall reaction of the crowd?
What the Applause Social Contagion Tells Us About Group Team Building
If social pressure can influence a group into how they applaud, then there is a similar dynamic in the group team process. Like the audience, a team of workers is going to be motivated by some measure of what kind of social pressure is exerted on the work group.
at first, it's easy to imagine a manager or executive as the one who needs to be the "first mover" in exerting social pressure to encourage a positive or productive output from the group. However, it is more likely that the manager holds more of a "performer" role; he or she might be outside of the loop in terms of exerting any kind of social force. (Granted, the manager has other forces he or she can leverage, but perhaps not this one.)
Instead, there is more likely a leader-type personality within the work team that isn't afraid to broadcast cues to the team -- whether knowingly or unknowingly -- that will create social pressure. In group team building, therefore, focusing on these individuals to act as intermediaries can help you leverage the same force behind "social contagion" like applauding.
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