Saturday, April 25, 2015

Is public speaking by far the scariest thing that people face? Even more than death? No, it is not!

On April 20th at  Ron Thomas posted at about A Key to Career Success - Mastering the Art of Public Speaking. I agree with his title and some of the content but shook my head when I read his claim that:

“Public speaking is by far the scariest thing that people face. As a matter of fact, fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death on the survey of what people fear most.”

Ron had linked to a November 29, 2012 post in The Real Story of Risk blog at Psychology Today by Glen Croston titled That Thing We Fear More Than Death which opened by claiming:

“Surveys about our fears commonly show fear of public speaking at the top of the list.  Our fear of standing up in front of a group and talking is so great that we fear it more than death, in surveys at least.”

I commented on that post by asking Glen which surveys he was talking about, and provided a link to a post of mine from October 23, 2012 titled Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. He didn’t reply. In a March 2014 blog post titled Stumbling at the start, I mentioned having gotten Glen’s book, The Real Story of Risk, and not finding a specific reference to any surveys about fear of public speaking. But on page 234 he said:

“Today, public speaking is consistently ranked as the greatest fear most people have - ranking higher than the fear of death itself.“

As I mentioned in my October 23, 2012 post, one way to look at fears is to make a list of them, ask what people do or do not fear, and get percentages. That is what most surveys do, and the number one will be the most common fear. The other way is to ask what people fear more, which psychologists have done many times using what are known as fear survey schedules that rank each of a long list of fears on an intensity scale. Then number one will be the greatest fear.

The first magazine article about a fear survey schedule was published by James H. Geer fifty years ago. I blogged about it on October 12, 2012. He surveyed students at a state university.

The top dozen fears for females were:

1.  Death of a loved one
2.  Illness or injury to loved ones
3.  Failing a test
4.  Snakes
5.  Auto accidents
6.  Looking foolish
7.  Speaking before a group
8.  Untimely or early death
9.  Being with drunks
10. Making mistakes
11. Being self-conscious
12. Death

The top dozen fears for males were:

1.  Death of a loved one
2.  Failing a test
3.  Illness or injury to loved ones
4.  Looking foolish
5.  Not being a success
6.  Speaking before a group
7.  Making mistakes
8.  Being self-conscious
9.  Suffocating
10. Being criticized
11. Snakes
12. Death

On October 13, 2012 I blogged about how In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking was ranked sixth for men and eighth for women. The top dozen fears for females were:

1.  Failure
2.  Dead people
3.  Hurting others’ feelings
4.  Feeling rejected
5.  Bats
6.  Mice or rats,
7.  Fire
8.  Speaking in public
9.  Feeling disapproved of
10. Looking foolish
11. Surgical operation
12. Parting from friends

The top dozen fears for males were:

1.  Failure
2.  Hurting others’ feelings
3.  Feeling rejected
4.  Looking foolish
5.  Dead people
6.  Speaking in public
7.  Feeling disapproved of
8.  People who seem insane
9.  Automobiles
10. Falling
11. Possible homosexuality
12. Being dressed unsuitably

On October 18, 2012 I blogged about how In a 2012 study of university students, fear of public speaking was ranked sixth. The top dozen fears were:

1.  Someone in family dying
2.  Having someone ill in the family
3.  Dying
4.  Getting cancer
5.  Being the victim of a crime
6.  Public speaking
7.  Spiders
8.  Becoming ill
9.  War
10. Drowning
11. Making mistakes
12. Heights

Where did Ron and Glen get that greatest fear claim? Public speaking really was ranked first in two surveys with results about what more people fear (not what people fear more!) - the 1973 Bruskin survey (reported in the 1977 Book of Lists) and the 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey, but as I blogged about on October 23, 2012 not even in the majority for that type of survey.

A cropped and reversed image of the grim reaper came from a painting by Nikola A. Tarkhov at Wikimedia Commons.

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