Saturday, October 13, 2012

In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and eighth for women

If you really want to know what people fear most, you should ask a clinical psychologist rather than a public speaking coach. Unfortunately, what happens in psychology stays in psychology, while speaking coaches eagerly tell us that speaking in public is what we all fear the most.

Back in 1964 J. Wolpe and P. J. Lange published an article in Behaviour Research and Therapy magazine that described A Fear Survey Scale for Use in Behavior Therapy. Their Fear Survey Schedule III (FSS-III) had 108 items. People were asked to rank the intensity level of their fears from zero (no fear) to four (very much fear).

In 1992 Douglas M. Klieger of Villanova University (near the city of Philadelphia) published another article in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry titled The Non-Standardization of the Fear Survey Schedule. You can read an abstract of it here.

Table 2 of that article presented his results for mean scores from 860 students (508 females and 352 males). He didn’t say where they were from, but possibly it was where he was located. 

Two bar charts shown above list the mean scores on the top twenty fears for females and males. (Click on them to see larger, clearer versions). Failure was the top fear. Speaking in public was sixth for males and eighth for females.

For both sexes fear of speaking in public was preceded by failure, hurting others’ feelings, dead people, and feeling rejected. For females there also were bats, mice and rats, and fire. For males there was looking foolish.

For both sexes the top twenty fears also included being criticized, feeling disapproved of, people who seem insane, falling, losing control, being dressed unsuitably, making mistakes, parting from friends, and surgical operations. The mean score on each item for females generally was higher than for males.       

The image of basketball in the Villanova Pavilion came from Wikimedia Commons.

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