Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Brief Communication
  • Published:

Self-organizing processes

The sound of many hands clapping

Tumultuous applause can transform itself into waves of synchronized clapping.


An audience expresses appreciation for a good performance by the strength and nature of its applause. The thunder of applause at the start often turns quite suddenly into synchronized clapping, and this synchronization can disappear and reappear several times during the applause. The phenomenon is a delightful expression of social self-organization that provides an example on a human scale of the synchronization processes that occur in numerous natural systems, ranging from flashing Asian fireflies to oscillating chemical reactions1,2,3. Here we explain the dynamics of this rhythmic applause.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Emergence of synchronization in clapping.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Strogatz, S. H. & Stewart, I. Sci. Am. 102–109 (December, 1993).

  2. Bottani, S. Phys. Rev. E 54, 2334–2350 (1997).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Glass, L. & Mackey, M. C. From Clocks to Chaos: The Rhythms of Life (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 1988).

  4. Winfree, A. T. J. Theor. Biol. 16, 15 (1967).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Kuramoto, Y. & Nishikava, I. J. Stat. Phys. 49, 569–605 (1987).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Mirollo, R. & Strogatz, S. H. SIAM J. Appl. Math. 50, 1645–1662 (1990).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Z. Néda.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Néda, Z., Ravasz, E., Brechet, Y. et al. The sound of many hands clapping. Nature 403, 849–850 (2000).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing