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What is a Standing Ovation?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 23, 2024
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A standing ovation, also known as a "standing o," is a form of recognition of a public performance by the audience, where audience members stand up and applaud, or clap their hands together, at the end of the performance to signify their approval and enjoyment of it. Receiving a standing ovation is considered a form of high praise and special appreciation for the performance by the audience. It often signifies that the audience would like an encore performance, or a repeat or extra performance at the end of a concert or event. Originally, the concept is attributed to a practice in ancient Rome where victorious returning military commanders would receive ovations, or rejoicing by the populace.

In special instances where a well-respected performer is entering the stage, a spontaneous standing ovation may also occur prior to a performance. Such ovations sometimes will continue until the performer signifies his or her appreciation by comments of gratitude or gestures to the audience, whereupon the applause usually slowly dies down, and everyone takes their seats. How long a standing ovation lasts and what sparks one are subjects of controversy in psychology.

Typically, it is believed that a certain critical mass or minimum percentage of individuals in the audience must first stand and initiate the willingness of others to follow suit. What this percentage is has not been well-quantified, but what is most likely to spur an individual to participate in this process of audience participation has been determined. Psychology indicates that, in public behavior, a person is more likely to go along with the crowd when seeking approval among peers. An audience member is more likely to leap to his feet to engage in a standing ovation, therefore, if surrounded by people close to his own age who dress and look like he does. This may be one of the reasons why a standing ovation is most common at formal events, such as classical music concerts and plays, religious ceremonies, and political rallies.

Ovations also tend to occur more frequently when individuals are confronted by new or novel positive experiences that present somewhat ambiguous judgment decisions on his or her part. People tend to regard personal memories of how one should react in new social situations as more suspect than direct perception of events. Standing ovations, therefore, are in part due to the desire to conform to the crowd as well as the desire to show affection for performers or speakers on stage. Since standing ovations are a form of group thinking that, to some degree, suspends moral judgment in the presence of group pressure, the performers on stage have to realize that what they are witnessing is often as much a desire for solidarity among audience members as it is true recognition of their abilities.

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Discussion Comments

By bagley79 — On May 27, 2011

Reading this article reminds me of the Standing Ovation movie my daughter rented a few weeks ago. A good movie about pursuing your dreams and not letting anything stand in your way.

I see a standing ovation as a "feel good" thing, that not only is positive reinforcement for the ones who are receiving it, but also beneficial for those who are giving it.

You would not receive one if you had not done a good job at something, and that job was noticed by someone who recognized the effort you put into it.

By LisaLou — On May 26, 2011

If you have ever been in a situation where you are the one receiving a standing ovation, whether it be for an individual performance, or a group performance, you realize how gratifying it can be.

I have traveled with different choral performance groups and we have received several standing ovations. When you feel that you have done your best and that the audience realizes that and appreciates it - it is nice to have the recognition.

It also motivates you to continue what you are doing and to always put forth your best effort.

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