Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In a 1965 study of university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and seventh for women

Back in 1965 James H. Geer published an article in Behaviour Research and Therapy magazine that described "The Development of a Scale to Measure Fear." You can read an abstract of it here. His Fear Survey Schedule II (FSS-II) had 51 items. People were asked to rank the intensity level of their fears from one to seven where:

1 = None
2 = Very Little
3 = A Little
4 = Some
5 = Much
6 = Very Much
7 = Terror

Table I of the article presented his results from 270 students (109 females and 161 males) in Introductory Psychology courses at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Two bar charts shown above list the mean scores on the top twenty fears for males and females. (Click on them to see larger, clearer versions). Death of a loved one was the top fear. Speaking before a group was sixth for men and seventh for women, preceded for both sexes by illness or injury to loved ones, failing a test,  and looking foolish. (For females there also were snakes and auto accidents, and for males there was not being a success). Death was twelfth for both females and males. The mean score on each item for females generally was higher than for males. 


Another pair of bar charts list all of the results. This fear survey scale is the ancestor of many other scales that have been used by clinical psychologists. Back in February I discussed results that were obtained using three others for children:

American Fear Survey Schedule for Children (FSSC-AM)

Fear Survey Schedule for Children - Revised (FSSC-R)

Hawaiian version of the Fear Survey Schedule for Children (FSSC-HI)

In a 1980 retrospective about his article, Professor Geer noted that: 

“....when the paper that described this scale was originally submitted to one of the journals of the American Psychological Association, it was rejected with an offer to publish a brief one page note on the work. The journal editor in his letter of rejection said that he could not waste valuable journal space on the manuscript as psychologists would not be interested in viewing people as a ‘bag of fears’.”

But the public is much more interested in us as bags of fears, so speaking coaches have gotten away with making silly claims that public speaking is the number one fear. 

The image of students at Tiffin University came from Wikimedia Commons.

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