Probably the most commonly cited survey about fears and public speaking was reported in the 1977 edition of The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace. An article on pages 469 and 470 was titled “The 14 Worst Human Fears.” Their secondary source was the London Sunday Times.
I found the same list of percentages shown in the bar chart also are listed on page 238 of Raymond Ross’s Speech Communication textbook (5th edition,Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1980).
Dr. Ross also quotes the following paragraph from the Bruskin Report:
“About 46% of women have this fear, while 36% of men indicate some concern. There is little difference by age, but people in the $15,000 plus income group seem somewhat less concerned about public speaking. The more education a person has, the less likely he is to fear addressing a group. People living in the southern part of the United States seem to have the greatest fear while those in the northeast seem less concerned.”
Update August 28, 2011
On August 14th I posted about another list of 20 Fears for a New Millennium, taken from data in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, that can be used to replace the one in the 1977 Book of Lists.
Update March 7, 2012
Curiously, another possible statement from the Bruskin survey or Book of Lists - that almost as many people fear flying as fear death is not common at all.
On March 3, 2012 I blogged about How many folks in the U.S. are freaked out about flying? In that post I discussed some recent surveys on the fear and phobia of flying - and other specific fears, like heights, and close spaces. (Bruskin didn’t mention close spaces, or claustrophobia).
A simplistic “Fear Combo Plate” approach doesn’t work there. You might expect that to get the percent of people who fear flying you could add the percent who fear heights to the percent who fear enclosed spaces, but instead more people fear heights than fear flying. Life is full of surprises!
Update April 2, 2014
If you’d prefer some data from 2014 (that are 41 years newer), please look at my post titled YouGov survey of U.S. adults found they most commonly were very afraid of snakes, heights, public speaking, spiders, and being closed in a small space