Sunday, August 10, 2014

12 most commonly feared social or performance situations for university students in Pisa

Recently at PMC I found a magazine article from Italy by Liliana Dell’Osso et al. titled Dimensional Assessment of DSM-5 Social Anxiety Symptoms Among University Students and Its Relationship with Functional Impairment. It appeared in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2014, volume 10, on pages 1325 to 1332. They surveyed a sample of  717 students at the University of Pisa (440 women and 277 men, ages 18 to 28). Students filled out the SHY-SR, which is an exhaustive list of 168 yes-no questions that you can read here.

Table 3 of the article lists 12 most commonly feared social or performance situations, feared by more than 60% of students, which are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version).

The most common fear (71.4%) was question [#36], Have you often felt more comfortable in small groups?

Six other fear questions began with Have you often felt embarrassed or uncomfortable:

2nd (70.0%) [#150] when you had to express romantic feelings to someone you liked?

5th (63.9%) [#108] that you might black out while performing or taking an oral examination?

7th (63.0%) [#105] when taking an oral examination?

9th (62.1%) [#103] when speaking, singing, or dancing in front of others?

10th (61.5%) [#146] when you had to ask someone you liked to go out on a date, a movie, to dinner, or a dance?

11th (61.2%) [104] when performing in front of an audience?

Three other fear questions began with When you were a child or adolescent, do you remember or have you been told that:

3rd (66.7%) [#9] you felt embarrassed and uncomfortable speaking with people you didn’t know very well?

4th (64.0%) [#1] you were very shy?

8th (63.0%) [#11] you didn’t want to go to school because you were afraid that the other children would not stay with you and you would feel embarrassed and uncomfortable?

The other two questions that rounded out the top twelve were:

6th (63.6%) [#26] Have you often felt that you were physically unattractive?

12th (60.4%) [#109] Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination, for any of these reasons?

These are very curious results which illustrate that the answers you get depends crucially on the questions you ask. I was surprised that blacking out while performing or taking an oral examination ranked 5th and worrying was 12th. Dell’Osso et al. explained that:

“In addition, we found a high frequency of endorsement of ‘Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination?’. This finding is probably because, in Italian universities, unlike in other countries, most examinations are orally performed in front of other students.”

In January 2013 I posted about Did you ever worry about blacking out while performing or during an oral exam? and was surprised that their previous study of high school students had ranked it first.

Perhaps there is an inside joke by clinical psychologists in having chosen the acronym SHY-SR. It can be pronounced as scheisser (a German obscenity for one who defecates).

Since this survey does not cover specific fears there is no locally relevant question:

“Have you often felt afraid of falling from the top of a leaning tower?”

Yair Haklai’s image of the leaning tower came from Wikimedia Commons. 

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