Revealed: why we applaud politicians' speeches

From a talk by a senior lecturer and a researcher from the University of Yorkto the British PsychologicalSociety Conference

Share

According to Atkinson's theory of rhetoric, a limited range of rhetorical devices, such as three-part lists and contrasts, are consistently effective in "inviting" audience applause to political speeches.

According to Atkinson's theory of rhetoric, a limited range of rhetorical devices, such as three-part lists and contrasts, are consistently effective in "inviting" audience applause to political speeches.

Atkinson's critical insight was to propose that these rhetorical devices indicate to the audience not only what to applaud but also when to applaud, through the projection of clear completion points. Their effectiveness is reflected in the close synchronisation between speech and audience applause. An analysis of 476 British political speeches found that more than two thirds of incidences of collective applause were associated with seven rhetorical devices.

Atkinson's theory has been highly influential, but suffers from one serious and underlying weakness. This is the failure to examine negative examples which might be inconsistent with his theory, such as non-rhetorically formatted statements which evoke collective applause, and incidences of applause not fully synchronised with speech.

In one of our studies, it was found that audience applause is often not synchronised with speech: it may be delayed, interruptive or sporadic. Indeed, in a sample of six speeches, only 61 per cent of applause incidences were found to be fully synchronised with speech. In a second study, an analysis was conducted of collective applause which occurred in the absence of rhetorical devices. Typically, such applause was found to be unsynchronised with speech, and to occur in response to statements of policy - statements rich in content.

We proposed that there are not one but two processes whereby applause occurs in political speeches. There is the process analysed by Atkinson, in which the speaker indicates through the rhetorical structure when and where applause is appropriate. Since this process is effectively initiated by the speaker, it might be referred to as "invited applause". There is also a second process, whereby applause in the absence of rhetorical devices seems to occur as a direct response to specific aspects of speech content. Since this process appears to be initiated by the audience (or certain sectors of it), it may be entitled "uninvited applause." Whereas invited applause, according to Atkinson, is typically synchronised with speech, this is not the case with uninvited applause. It may be initiated by a few people, and there may be a substantial delay before it is taken up by the rest of the audience (staggered onset).

But how can we say what proportion of invited and uninvited applause is synchronised with speech? Do we have any idea of the relative distribution of invited and uninvited applause in political speeches?

To address these questions, it was decided to conduct a more systematic test of invited and uninvited applause. Twelve speeches have been transcribed for the purpose of this analysis - those delivered by the leaders of the three principal British political parties to their autumn party political conferences over the past four years (Blair, 1996-9; Major, 1996; Hague, 1997-9; Ashdown 1996-8; Kennedy, 1999). Applause is coded according to whether or not it is synchronised with speech, and according to whether or not it is invited through rhetorical devices.

Although the concept of invited applause draws heavily on Atkinson's concept of rhetorical devices, it should not be seen as synonymous with it. There may be other ways in which speakers invite applause, and the new coding procedure allows for this. The presence of rhetorical devices does not necessarily constitute an invitation to applaud; the delivery of the message is also important.

Atkinson argued that appropriate delivery increases the chance of a rhetorical device being applauded, but an alternative point of view is that delivery can indicate whether or not a rhetorical device should be seen as an invitation to applaud. Delivery is of comparable importance to the presence or absence of rhetorical devices.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Building Manager / Head Porter

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific