Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A 1952 magazine article surveyed fear of public speaking in U.S. university students

Sixty years ago Floyd I. Greenleaf published An Exploratory Study of Speech Fright in the Quarterly Journal of Speech (Volume 38, 1952, pages 326 to 330). You can read the abstract here. The only survey about fear of public speaking that many people know about is one reported in the 1977 Book of Lists. Greenleaf’s results were published 25 years earlier! (His Masters thesis, An Exploratory Study of Social Speech Fright, was done back in 1947). Mr. Greenleaf surveyed 789 students at the University of Iowa (664 males and 125 females) that were enrolled in the Communication Skills course. He asked them to rate their degree of fright as None, Mild, Moderate, or Severe.

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (click on it to see a larger, clearer version. 11% reported none, 32% were mild, 47% were moderate, and 11% were severe.   

Another bar chart compares the percentages for men and women, which differ by five percent or less.

Rating scales later were used to compare many fears via fear survey schedules. Most articles about fear survey schedules don’t provide this detail of percentages at each level. Forty years after Greenleaf’s article, another one by Douglas M. Klieger did. He studied 508 males and 352 females, with fears being ranked on a scale from 0 to 4.

His results for fear of speaking in public are shown above. For females the mean was 2.04, and the standard deviation was 1.20. Although the mean was very close to 2, about 30% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, and about 20% ranked it at 3. For males the mean was 1.84, and the standard deviation also was 1.20. There is a large spread in the results, similar to what Greenleaf saw.  

Klieger’s results for fear of dead people are shown in another bar chart. For females the mean was 2.25, and the standard deviation was 1.28. Although the mean was close to 2, over 20% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, 3 or 4. For males the mean was 1.91, and the standard deviation was 1.22.  

The vintage image of Nathan Straus speaking came from the Library of Congress.

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