Plexus News Banner
Thursday Complexity PostJune 27, 2013

Diffusion of Applause as Social Contagion       


Scientists are developing some new clues about how memes spread. It seems applause spreads through an audience like a communicable disease, and duration is not necessarily based on enthusiasm for a performance.


A team of mathematicians and biologists from Sweden and Germany studied audience applause in order to quantify the role of social contagion in the age-old practice of clapping-how it starts and stops, and how long it lasts. In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, mathematician Richard P. Mann of Uppsala University in Sweden, and colleagues explained that in an audience of "susceptible" people each individual clap provides a time point in which he or she remains "infected" by appreciation, and cessation of clapping denotes "recovery."


The experiments took place at the University of Leeds. A total of 107 participants were divided into six groups of 20 or fewer. Each group was randomly assigned to attend lectures by two different presenters who each gave seven minute oral reports using PowerPoint. Participants were told to applaud after each session, because the presenters were volunteering. They were also told to observe and record presenters' body language so they would be less likely to think about their clapping.


Both the start and stop of clapping followed a sigmoidal growth and decay pattern. Researchers reported that an initial slow uptake of new clapping behavior was followed by a rapid phase of change, and eventual cessation. They developed several mathematical models and equations that might explain the clapping behavior. Are local neighbors or audiences majorities most important in spreading memes? Is there a tipping point at which a phenomenon takes off after reaching critical mass?


They found that hearing the overall  volume of the applause influenced participants more than whatever their nearby neighbors were doing. As in the infectious disease model, and unlike models based on a tipping point, observed clapping by participants increased in linear fashion along with the proportion of people already clapping. Even before everyone had started clapping, some had already stopped. Cessation of clapping is "socially mediated," the scientists said, but is also influenced by a general reluctance of people to clap for too long. Duration varied widely even among audiences that rated the same presentation equally.


Researchers believe their findings may help understand other cultural phenomena and collective behavior, such as the rate at which people leave social networks and online groups. Read their paper here.


Remember PlexusCalls!

Friday, Jun 28, 2013 - 1-2 PM ET  
Register to receive your call-in number and pin:  
Is Murder Contagious?   
Guests: April Zeoli and Caroline Nicholl
April Zeoli led team of researchers at Michigan State University that studied the 2,366 homicides in Newark N.J. between 1982 and 2008. In one of the first studies of its kind, the team used analytical software from the field of medical geography to track long term homicide trends. They found the killings followed a pattern similar to that of an infectious disease, evolving from the city's center and moving south and west over time in neighborhoods where most residents were poor and members of minority groups. Researchers also identified areas of Newark where there had been no clusters of homicide despite being surrounded by areas of deadly violence.
Caroline Nicholl started her consulting business focusing on leadership and organizational change  in 2002. In the late 1980s she helped shift London's police from a "force" to a "service," and for seven years she served as police chief for the city of Milton Keyes in the U.K.  She introduced interactive policing, which emphasizes community engagement and problem solving, and launched the first police-based restorative justice program in the country. 
Nursing Network PlexusCalls 
Wednesday July 10, 2013 - 1-2 PM ET  
Register to receive your call-in number and pin:  
Guest: Debbie Gregory 

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 1-2 PM ET  
Register to receive your call-in number and pin:  
Ecology of Leadership    
Guests: David K. Hurst and Felix Ankel 

In his book The New Ecology of Leadership: Business Mastery in a Chaotic World, David K. Hurst weaves together proven managerial concepts with insights from other fields-cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, history, and our natural environment. He argues that the human mind is rational in an ecological rather than logical sense. In other words, it takes cues to action from the situations in which it finds itself. As a result, contexts matter and reason, passion and power can be used to change organizations for good or ill. He integrates management thought and practice from a systems perspective. 
Dr. Felix Ankel is Director of the Emergency Medicine Residency at Regions Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Minnesota.



Visit the Plexus Institute Calendar for a detailed schedule of PlexusCalls, Healthcare PlexusCalls, Nursing Network PlexusCalls and other upcoming events from Plexus Institute and others.  


Audio from all PlexusCall series are available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


Follow us on Twitter          

 Like us on Facebook 


Plexus Institute

1025 Connecticut Ave, NW Ste 1000 

Washington, DC  20036

Phone: 888-466-4884

...fostering the health of individuals,

families, communities, organizations,

and our natural environment by helping people

use concepts emerging from the new

science of complexity


Join Plexus 

 Find us on Facebook  Follow us on Twitter