Saturday, May 4, 2013

Undergraduates in Regina, Saskatchewan were more distressed about sweating than speaking in public

Last month I went looking for data on fears and anxieties in Canadians. I found a magazine article by R. N. Carleton et al. from 2012 in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, in Volume 24, pages 94 to 101 that contains a very curious result. It was titled SPINning factors: Factor analytic evaluation of the Social Phobia Inventory in clinical and nonclinical undergraduate samples. You can read the abstract here. You also can find the full text online by searching Google using and the phrase "spinning factors". Factor analysis is a math technique sometimes used by psychologists.

Their clinical sample was 355 people (193 women and 162 men) from the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario, who had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The nonclinical sample was 277 undergraduates (177 women and 50 men) from the University of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Both samples took the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), which has 17 items designed to assess symptoms for social anxiety. Participants read each statement and then ranked how much each item bothered them during the past week, on a scale from zero to four where:

0 = Not At All
1 =  A Little
2 = Somewhat
3 = Very Much
4 = Extremely

The bar chart shown above describes results for that anxious clinical sample. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). 3 of the 17 categories were rated at 3.0 or above (Very Much), and 15 of the 17 categories were rated 2.0 or above (Somewhat). ‘I avoid having to give speeches’ was ranked highest, with an mean (average) of  3.15.  ‘Sweating in front of people causes me distress’ had a mean of 2.02 and was ranked 15th.  

A second bar chart describes results for the nonclinical undergraduate sample. None of the 17 categories was ranked 2.0 or above (Somewhat). 13 of the 17 categories were ranked at less than 1.0 (A little), and two more both were at just 1.02. ‘Sweating in front of people causes me distress’ had a mean of 1.94 and was ranked first. ‘I avoid having to give speeches’ had a mean of 1.69 and was ranked second. 

I was quite surprised to see that these students sweated more about perspiring than about speaking. This might have made sense if the SPIN had been taken in the summer, and the women were embarrassed by sweating as unladylike. Secret peddles a ‘clinical strength’ deodorant for women since they claim that Stress Stinks. And, on February 4th  the Wall Street Journal web site had an article about Why stress makes you sweat. But, reportedly there were no statistically significant item differences between women and men. Very curious indeed, and perhaps not representative of most Canadians.

The image of a perspiring gentleman was adapted from an 1882 Puck magazine. 

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