Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surveys show that public speaking isn’t feared by the majority of adults in nine developed and eleven developing countries

On a web page titled Fear of Public Speaking Statistics I found the startling claim that:

“Three out of every four individuals suffer from speech anxiety: that is 75 percent of the world population according to the World Health Organization.”

Last month I blogged about a web page at Statistic Brain with a bogus claim that (according to the National Institute of Mental Health) 74 percent of Americans feared public speaking. The claim made above for the world is similarly bogus. There aren’t any surveys for the whole world (or the galaxy).

But, there have been similar surveys done in a number of countries under the World Mental Health Survey Initiative by the World Health Organization. Two years ago there was a very serious magazine article by Dan J. Stein et al. that assembled them to describe social fears and phobias both in developed and developing countries. You probably have never heard of it from any public speaking coaches or teachers, because it has the obscure title of Subtyping Social Anxiety Disorder in Developed and Developing Countries and appeared in a magazine for psychologists called Depression and Anxiety (April 2010, volume 27, number 4, pages 390 to 403). You can read the full text here at PubMed Central. The total sample size was 103,810, which was over 40 times larger than the 2,543 for the endlessly quoted 1973 Bruskin survey cited in the 1977 Book of Lists. Results were reported (in Table 2) for nine developed countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United States) and eleven developing countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine).

Results for the nine developed countries are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Social fears are shown in blue, and social phobias are shown in red. (I’ve previously blogged about the difference between a fear and a phobia). 13% feared public speaking/performance, and 12.5% feared speaking up in a meeting/class. 8.9% feared an important exam/interview, 8.8% feared meeting new people, and 8.6% feared talking to people in authority. Only 3.1% feared using public bathrooms.

So, way less than a majority (half) of adults in developed countries fear public speaking. The 13% for fear of public speaking/performance, and 12.5% for fear of speaking up in a meeting/class can be restated as saying only one in eight people have these fears, or about six times lower than the bogus statistic of 75% (three out of four).

Results for the eleven developing countries are shown above in another bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). 9.4% feared public speaking/performance, and 9% feared speaking up in a meeting/class. 6.6% feared talking to people in authority. 6.3% feared an important exam/interview, 5% feared meeting new people, and only 3.2% feared using public bathrooms. The 14.3% for any social fear in developing countries was slightly lower than the 15.9% for developed countries. But, fears of public speaking/performance were clearly lower (9.4% versus 13%). 

So, the next time you see those bogus 75% fear statistics, keep in mind that they are not backed up by recent research.

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