Friday, October 30, 2015

According to the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears, adults are less than Afraid of federal government Corruption and only Slightly Afraid of Public Speaking

In the 2015 Chapman Survey on American Fears 1,541 adults were asked around ninety questions that all began with:

“How afraid are you of the following?”

They were asked to choose from one of four answers (fear levels):

1]  Not Afraid

2]  Slightly Afraid

3]  Afraid

4]  Very Afraid

In the Chapman blog post about the survey on October 13th titled America’s Top Fears 2015 there was a Complete List of Fears ranked by the sum of the percentages for Afraid and Very Afraid (and also shown alphabetically). Although the text says there are 88 fears, there actually are 89, since Dying is listed twice but actually refers to two slightly different questions, the second being Dying Alone.


That blog post also discussed how those fears could be classified into ten domains. It mentioned Average Fear Scores for them, ranging from a high of 2.15 for Man-Made Disasters to a low of 1.31 for Judgment of Others. But, it didn’t say where the individual Fear Scores landed in the range from 1 (Not Afraid) to 4 (Very Afraid). The Chapman University researchers had to calculate those individual scores before the averages, so why didn’t they mention the highest one? Where was that fear score for Corruption? Was it way up at 3.75, enough to make us Scream like that man in the famous painting by Edward Munch. Or was it 3.5, or 3.25, or just 3.0 (Afraid).

A fear score can be calculated from the Valid Percent answers for each question tabulated in the codebook of Complete Survey Results. The formula simply is a weighted average of the proportions:

Fear Score = [ 1x(% for Not Afraid) 
+  2x(% for Slightly Afraid) 
+ 3x(% for Afraid) 
+ 4x(% for Very Afraid)]/100  


I calculated all the the Fear Scores. Three tables show results for the top half of the list. (You can click on one to see a larger, clearer view).I have also shown their rank based on the Sum of [Very Afraid + Afraid] used by Chapman. For Corruption the score is only 2.7, which isn’t even at Afraid. For Public speaking it is 2.022, almost exactly 2.0 (or just Slightly Afraid). For Zombies it was 1.308, and the very lowest for Gender was 1.201. Often the rankings based on Fear Score and  the Sum of [Very Afraid + Afraid] are similar. The same ten appear in both Top Tens, but in slightly different order. The biggest difference is for Drunk driver, which is ranked 21st by Fear Score but 31st on the Chapman list. Three numbers in the rightmost column are shown in orange. For these items the 5 Afraid or Very Afraid shown in the Chapman blog post list didn't match their Complete Survey Results, and differs slightly.

As shown above in a line graph, those fear scores cover a range from a low of 1.2 to a high of 2.7. There’s no data either in the upper pink or lower green rectangles. The data cover just 1.5, or half the total of 3.0 you might expect to find. The highest score of 2.7 is not very frightening at all. It reminded me of some lyrics in Katy Perry’s very popular song This Is How We Do, which are:

“It’s No Big Deal.
It’s No Big Deal.
It’s No Big Deal.
This Is No Big Deal!”


Both the Fear Score and the Sum of [Very Afraid + Afraid] are reasonable for summarizing the results. It is easy to imagine data where the story they tell about how flat or peaked the data looks is incomplete, like the four symmetrical examples shown above which were constructed with a Sum of 50% and a Fear Score of 2.5. 

Another way to display how flat or peaked the data looks is by charting Very Afraid, Sum of [Very Afraid + Afraid], and Sum of [Very Afraid + Afraid + Slightly Afraid], as shown above. These three items also could be overlaid as a Stacked Bar Chart. 

Real data also can be skewed in either direction, like those for Corruption and Public Speaking shown above. You really have to look at the details. 

Fear Scores view the survey like a Fear Survey Schedule, a topic I last discussed on April 25th in a blog post titled Is public speaking by far the scariest thing that people face? Even more than death? No, it is not. A fear score describes what people fear most, rather than what most people fear. That distinction seems beyond the grasp of many journalists.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Statistic - More Americans fear public speaking than fear zombies

Contrary to Doug Savage’s October 26th Savage Chickens cartoon about Zombie Stress (shown above), more Americans fear public speaking than fear zombies. Both the 2014 and 2015 Chapman University Surveys on American Fears found this. Using the sum of percentages for Very Afraid and Afraid, in 2014 Public Speaking was 25.3% while Zombies was 8.9%, and in 2015 Public Speaking was 28.4% while zombies was 8.5%. 

A bar chart shows all the data for the four fear levels and refused (or don’t know) from the 2014 survey. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). For three fear levels of Very Afraid (8.8% vs 3.6%), Afraid (16.5% vs 5.3%) and Somewhat Afraid (36.6% vs 9.3%) more feared public speaking (yellow) than zombies (blue). Note that 77.8% were Not Afraid of zombies, so the majority of adults are willing to watch a television show or movie about the walking dead.

Another bar chart shows all the data for the four fear levels from the 2015 survey.. For three fear levels of Very Afraid (11.8% vs 4.7%), Afraid (16.6% vs 3.8%) and Slightly  Afraid (33.6% vs 9.0%) more again feared public speaking than zombies. If you want to use this as a Startling Statistic for Halloween, be careful NOT to point out that public speaking only was ranked 26th and zombies ranked 83rd.

If you are looking for a Startling Statistic for year round use, you might say instead that more Americans fear public speaking than dying or dying alone. Detailed results for those questions from the 2015 Chapman Survey are shown above. Again, be careful NOT to point out that public speaking was ranked 26th while dying ranked 43rd and dying alone ranked 54th.

Anyone with an ax to grind (and perhaps use) can find a pair of things to compare on the 2015 Chapman Survey’s Complete List of Fears. Two headline examples are that Atlantic magazine had (sic) Americans are more afraid of robots than death, while Red Alert Politics had More Americans are afraid of Obamacare than dying.

Monday, October 26, 2015

More people fear being buried alive than fear public speaking

That is what was found by two surveys I previously mentioned here in Joyful Public Speaking. Digging them up again was prompted by reading that today A & E is airing a TV special titled Buried Alive.

One survey was mentioned in the Daily Mail (UK) on October 29, 2013. In January 2014 I blogged about how a Survey done before last Halloween for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in London found women’s top five fears were losing family members, being buried alive, speaking in public, dying, and fire. The rest of that top ten were snakes, heights, spiders, crashing the car, and public humiliation. 

The other survey was done in the U.S. back in 2000. I blogged about it in a 2009 post titled U.S. residents are slightly more afraid of public speaking than of hell or fire. There the top ten fears of adults were snakes (25%), being buried alive (22%), heights (17%), being bound or tied up (15%), drowning (14%), speaking in public (13%), hell (12%), cancer (11%), fire (10%), and tornadoes & hurricanes (10%). 

Fear of being buried alive is a well-known problem. Wikipedia has a page on Premature Burial and another on Fear of being buried alive, and Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story (The Premature Burial) about it back in 1844. In 1868 Franz Vester devised the safety coffin (U.S. Patent 81,437, whose drawing is shown above colorized) which has a bell cord that can be pulled by the occupant to indicate he is not in fact dead yet. (According to a Mental Floss article, the phrase “saved by the bell” actually refers to the end-of-round bell in a boxing match).

In 1843 Christian Henry Eisenbrandt devised a “life preserving coffin” whose lid would be opened by any movement of the occupant. But it only would be useful before the coffin was put underground, which is considered a grave defect.       

Fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia, a word which appears in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and in the Wikipedia page on Premature Burial. The Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli 1891 reportedly devised that word back in 1891 in a magazine article where he also came up with term dysmorphophobia (now called body dysmorphic disorder). But the other Wikipedia page on Fear of being buried alive uses another spelling - taphophobia.

The Eisenbrandt coffin image was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Something other than public speaking to fear for Halloween

Columbia is a city in northern mid-Missouri, 120 miles from both St. Louis and Kansas City. On October 24th KOMU TV 8 had an article on their web site titled Columbia residents worried about strange solicitor incidents which discussed how:

“Students from some apartment complexes throughout Columbia are expressing concern about strange solicitors coming to their doors. One resident Chris Menich said he got home Friday when he answered the door to a male asking him to take a survey.

...A similar incident occurred to resident Rachel Green.

‘It was some guy telling me he was doing some public speaking class and wanted to make sure his public speaking was ok and then he went into trying to sell me magazines,’ Green said.

Other residents who have contacted KOMU said details about the business and magazines were vague.

Both Green and Menich said the changing motive was not the only thing that made them feel uneasy during their encounters.

Both solicitors insisted on coming into the house to use a surface for writing.“

That’s a trick rather than a treat. There was a comedy sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus about an encyclopedia salesman who got past the door by claiming he instead was a burglar.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Somewhat Haunted World - Paranormal Beliefs in the 2015 Chapman Survey on American Fears

Blog posts from Chapman University on their 2015 Chapman University Survey on American Fears include one by Sheri Ledbetter titled This Haunted World about the section on paranormal beliefs. It begins by stating [I added the percent in square brackets] that:

“Currently the most common paranormal belief in the United States is the belief that places can be haunted by spirits with over 40 percent [41.4 percent] of Americans agreeing or strongly agreeing with this statement. More than a fourth (26.5 percent) believe that the living and dead can communicate with each other. Nearly a fifth believe that dreams can foretell the future (20.9 percent) and that aliens visited Earth in our ancient past (20.3 percent).”

I had a good laugh when I looked at all the results from the seven questions in that section of the survey (pages 55 to 57 of the Complete Results). Each question had asked participants to:

“Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements:”

That level was ranked on a scale from one to five where:

1 = Strongly Disagree

2 = Disagree

3 = Don’t Know

4 = Agree

5= Strongly Agree.

A more honest bar chart for those results is shown above. (Click on it to see a larger and clearer view). I have shown the valid percentages for agreeing or strongly agreeing in blue, and also the valid percentages for disagreeing or strongly disagreeing in red. Note that only Places can be haunted by spirits has a just 4.7 higher percentage for blue than red. For the other six questions more Americans mainly saw red - indicating they thought that paranormal belief was rather silly. Both this chart and the list shown on Sheri's blog post ignored the percentage who replied don't know.  

Another way of displaying these results is to calculate an Agreement Score (ranging from 1.0 to 5.0) defined as follows:

Agreement Score = [ 1x(% for Strongly Disagree) 
+  2x(% for Disagree) + 3x(% for Don’t Know) 
+ 4x(% for Agree) + 5x(% for Strongly Agree)]/100.

For this Agreement Score a value of 3.0 is the transition point between disagreement and agreement. This score is similar to the Fear Score I mentioned in a previous post

A second bar chart shows the Agreement Score for all seven questions about the paranormal. That score is always less than 3.0, indicating disagreement.

The blog post also mentions that:

“Paranormal beliefs are quite common in the United States, if we examine how many such beliefs a person holds. Using the seven paranormal items included on the Chapman Survey of American Fears, Wave 2 (2015), we find that a about half of Americans (49.7 percent) do not hold any of these seven beliefs. However, this means that half of Americans do believe in something paranormal.”

A third bar chart lists the percentages of people with zero through seven of these fears.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What can you say in less than four minutes?

If you’re a songwriter like Josh Ritter, that’s an entire story in a song, Where the Night Goes, on his very recent CD, Sermon on the Rocks. It sounds very similar to early Bruce Springsteen. Part of the lyrics are:

“....Only the lonely know the way I’m feeling
Only the living go to the graveyard grieving
Still we’re alive, and you’re astounding
Feel the pulse of the world pounding
Feel the pull of the American darkness:
the mountains, the rivers, the fields at harvest
It’s all I have, and that’s a lot
Come on honey, let’s get lost

In a long night, old car,
back roads, and the boneyards
You drop the pedal like a holy roller,

Sheriff of Hell couldn’t pull you over
Tough girl from a bad town,
brought up not to stay down
Sweet tea, white lightning,
breaking hearts and not minding

Come on in, it’s so good to see ya
It’s been so long, I know, I know
Let’s see where the night takes us
Let’s see where the night goes”

I first blogged about Josh back in April 2011. Did Josh made up the Sheriff of Hell? No, he didn’t. It’s a shortened form of the High Sheriff of Hell, a nickname once used by the St. Louis bluesman Peetie Wheatstraw.

If anyone tells you they can’t possibly say anything just in a four or six minute speech, tell them to go listen to some folk, rock, or country songs.   

The image of James Dean and Natalie Wood is from a trailer for the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause found at Wikimedia Commons.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fears from Daily Life in the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears

In my last post on Thursday I began to discuss results from the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears, and looked at the Personal Anxieties Domain. Today I’m going to look at the Daily Life Domain, which has the following eight fears based on the questions [and summarized as shown in the blog post list]:

Being laughed at [Ridicule]

Dying alone

Expressing your opinion [Expressing opinion]

Not being taken seriously [Dismissed by others]

Others talking about you behind your back [Gossip]

Romantic rejection

Talking to strangers

Walking alone at night

Results from these questions can be summarized via Fear Scores, which are briefly mentioned in the Chapman blog post but only for Averages. That views the survey as another Fear Survey Schedule, a topic I last discussed on April 25th in a blog post titled Is public speaking by far the scariest thing that people face? Even more than death? No, it is not. A fear score describes what people fear most, rather than what most people fear.  

The score can be calculated from the Valid Percent answers for each question tabulated in the codebook of Detailed Results on pages 28 and 37 through 39. The formula apparently simply is:

 Fear Score = [ 1x(% for Not Afraid) 
+  2x(% for Slightly Afraid)  + 3x(% for Afraid) 
+ 4x(% for Very Afraid)]/100  

The first bar chart shows the Fear Scores for this domain. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). The Domain mean is a rather low 1.51, or halfway between Not Afraid and Slightly Afraid. Walking alone at night (1.70) was 1st, Dying alone (1.63) was 2nd, Dismissed by others (1.54) was 3rd, Talking to strangers (1.47) was 4th, Ridicule (1.46) was 5th, Gossip (1.44) was 6th, Romantic rejection (1.43) was 7th, and Expressing your opinion (1.41) was 8th.

The second bar chart shows detailed results for Very Afraid.  Walking alone at night (6.9%) was 1st, Dying alone (6.1%) was 2nd, Romantic rejection (4.5%) was 3rd, Dismissed by others (3.2%) was 4th, Gossip (3.1%) was 5th, Ridicule (2.7%) was 6th, Talking to strangers (2.3%) was 7th, and Expressing your opinion (1.8%) was 8th. 

A third bar chart shows results for Afraid. Dying alone (10.7%) was 1st, Walking alone at night (9.5%) was 2nd, Dismissed by others (9.3%) was 3rd, Ridicule (7.9%) was 4th, Talking to strangers (7.4%) was 5th, Gossip (6.5%) was 6th, Expressing your opinion (6.3%) was 7th, and Romantic rejection (5.9%) was 8th.

A fourth bar chart shows results for the sum of Very Afraid and Afraid, which is what was shown in the blog post total list. You would not expect it to give the same ranking as the Average Fear Scores, since it uses just two of the four percentages. Dying alone (16.8%) was 1st, Walking alone at night (16.4%) was 2nd, Dismissed by others (12.5%) was 3rd, Ridicule (10.6%) was 4th, Romantic rejection (10.4%) was 5th, Talking to strangers (9.7%) was 6th, Gossip (9.5%) was 7th, and Expressing your opinion (6.3%) was 8th.

A fifth bar chart shows results for Slightly Afraid. Walking alone at night (30.3%) was 1st, Dismissed by others (25.6%) was 2nd, Talking to strangers (25.5%) was 3rd and just slightly smaller, Dying alone (23.7%) was 4th, Expressing your opinion (22.8%) was 5th, Ridicule (22.0%) was 6th, Gossip (21.6%) was 7th, and Romantic rejection (17.7%) was 8th.

A sixth bar chart shows results for the sum of Slightly Afraid, Afraid, and Very Afraid. Adding in the relatively large Slightly Afraid category (about 18% to 30%) produces impressively large percentages. Walking alone at night (46.7%) was 1st, Dying alone (40.5%) was 2nd, Dismissed by others (38.1%) was 3rd, Talking to strangers (35.1%) was 4th, Ridicule (32.6%) was 5th, Gossip (31.2%) was 6th, Expressing your opinion (30.9%) was 7th, and Romantic rejection (28.1%) was 8th.

Walking alone at night came first in the Fear Scores and percentages in three of the five charts shown above. In the total list presented in the blog post it ranked 57th out of 88 fears. How similar was that to its ranking in the 2014 survey. In the 2014 survey it ranked 1st! In this year’s press release, the 2nd paragraph under Methodology warns that:

“The researchers continue to improve the survey as its results and continuing interviews provide more information about fear, as well as how best to collect fear-based information. The second wave of the survey modified question wording such that all questions about fear use the same response categories: “Very afraid,” “Afraid,” “Slightly afraid,” and “Not afraid.” Consequently a comparison of fears between 2014 and 2015 should not be conducted without consultation with the researchers, who can explain the proper method for conducting comparisons across waves.”

The proper method for conducting comparisons between the two surveys is not to, unless the form of questions was the same. For Walking alone at night they were different. So as I pointed out last year in my first blog post titled What do the most Americans fear? The Chapman Survey on American Fears and the press release copying reflex, it’s like comparing bananas with blueberries.

The seventh bar chart shown above compares the results for those two questions. Changing the form from asking How safe do you feel? to How afraid are you? led to dramatically different percentages for those four different categories.    

An image of a farmer’s boy from 1907 came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Corruption of Federal Government Officials was first in the top ten list from the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears

On October 13th Chapman University released the results from their second (Wave 2) survey of American Fears. Sherri Ledbetter blogged that:

“The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Wave 2 (2015) provides an unprecedented look into the fears of average Americans. In April of 2015, a random sample of 1,541 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about eighty-eight different fears across a huge variety of topics ranging from crime, the government, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and many others.”

The survey asked about four levels of fear: Not Afraid, Slightly Afraid, Afraid, and Very Afraid.

She provided a full list for the sum of the percentages for Very Afraid and Afraid. Corruption of  (Federal) Government Officials topped that list. Where did public speaking rank in the Top Ten? It didn’t (See their infographic). It wasn’t in the Top Twenty either. It was 26th. Dying was 43rd. I don’t expect than many public speaking coaches will be quoting those results, since they prefer to claim that public speaking is the biggest fear (and in the Seinfeld joke death is second). Dying seems to appear twice, but under Daily Life the question really was about fear of dying alone. Also, there's a typo for fear of the Dark, which should be 8.3% rather than 9.3%. 

Details of the survey methodology and results are in .pdf files that can be downloaded.

What about detailed results from the Personal Anxieties major domain, which resembles other earlier surveys of fears? There were 18 fears, which alphabetically are as follows [with their summary terms shown in brackets]:

The dark
Deep Lakes and Oceans [Water]
Dogs, rats, or other animals [Mammals]
Public speaking
Small enclosed spaces [Claustrophobia]
Snakes, lizards or other reptiles [Reptiles]
Spiders, bees or other insects [Insects]
Whooping Cough

A bar chart shows the results for Very Afraid. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). The five most common fears are Reptiles (13.7%), Public speaking (11.8%), Heights (11.3%), Insects (9.5%) and Water (8.0%)

A second bar chart shows the results for Afraid. The five most common fears are Reptiles (19.3.%), Public speaking (16.6%), Heights (16.1%), Insects (16.0%) and Water (13.0%)

A third bar chart shows the results for  the sum of Very Afraid and Afraid, which is what was in the full list from Chapman. The five most common fears are Reptiles (33.0%), Public speaking (28.4%), Heights (27.4%), Insects (25.5%) and Water (21.0%). The 2001 and 1998 Gallup polls also had snakes first and public speaking second.

A fourth bar chart shows the results for  Slightly Afraid. The five most common fears shift and now are Germs (36.9%), Public speaking (33.6%), Insects (33.4%), Reptiles (31.8.%), and Heights (30.9%).

A fifth bar chart shows the results for the Sum of All Fears - Slightly Afraid, Afraid, and Very Afraid. The five most common fears are Reptiles (64.8.%),  Public speaking (62.0%), Insects (58.9%), Heights (56.3%), and Germs (53.4%).

For completeness a sixth bar chart shows the results for Not Afraid. The five least common fears are Reptiles (35.1%), Public speaking (38.0%), Insects (41.1%), Heights (41.7%), and Germs (46.6%). About 4 out of 5 people are not afraid of either clowns (83.0%) or zombies (82.6%) - which is why zombies show up as the subjects for movies and TV shows.

My only beef with this year’s Chapman press release is their misleading title - What Americans Fear Most - Chapman University’s second annual Survey of American Fears released. Actually it’s what the most Americans fear. And just like last year, journalists at TIME and the Daily Mail reflexively copied that incorrect description. 

The Halloweeny image of a Haunted House (of Representatives) came from the Library of Congress. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Today once again it’s National Face Your Fears Day

One of my fears is that people will spread nonsense about what scares others.

At today there was a post by Mridul Dubey titled #FaceYourFearsDay Top 14 Things People Dread The Most that claimed:

“In a survey conducted across more than 7 countries, people revealed their worst fears and things that give them the creeps.”

But those percentages instead came from a well-known 1973 Bruskin survey just of U. S. adults I described in the most popular post on this blog titled The 14 Worst Human Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from?.

The image was modified from one of a trust promoter’s nightmare at the Library of Congress web site.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Using the wrong definition can make you look like a stubborn donkey

Back on September 1st I blogged about the importance of careful research in a post titled Don’t open your mouth until you’ve done your research. I just found a great example of what not to do. On August 3rd at his A Daring Adventure web site Tim Brownson blogged about What is social anxiety? And 7 ways to cure it. His highly profane post opens by claiming:

“According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America about 15 million adults in the US suffer from social anxiety.  
I say that’s a total crock of shit.
In my rather arrogant opinion, it’s way, way, higher.
In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s at least 100 million.
You may think that it’s highly arrogant of me to suggest a professional body that’s only purpose is to study anxiety can get it so hopelessly wrong.
But bear with me, and see if you agree when I explain what social anxiety actually is.”

Then he goes off on a tangent about having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Next he gets back to discussing What Is Social Anxiety? and says:

“Rather than give you my opinion of what social anxiety is I’ll quote directly from the Social Anxiety Institute website.

‘Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.
If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then ‘social anxiety’ may be the problem.’


Think about it for a second.
How many people do you know who aren’t bothered about being judged?
Donald Trump maybe?
After that I’m struggling.
And if it bothers them, then by definition that must mean at least one of the above symptoms comes into play.”

What did Tim miss? He skipped one crucial word on that Anxiety and Depression Association of America web page. Their heading says Social Anxiety Disorder (which used to be called Social Phobia), and then lists 15 million, 6.8%. The definition Tim quoted referred just to “social anxiety” which is not the same thing (just about social fear rather than phobia).  

That 6.8% comes from a web page about Social Phobia Among Adults at the National Institute of Mental Health web site. A footnote reveals it is one result from the very detailed National Comorbidity Survey - Replication. That percentage refers to the 12 month prevalence - the answer from asking people if they had a social phobia during the last year. If you had instead asked them about if they ever had a social phobia, you’d get another larger percentage for the lifetime prevalence.

Back in October 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? In that post I described the DSM-4 definition for social phobia. The Social Anxiety Institute web site has a web page on the newer DSM-5 Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder, which is very similar.  

After that Tim has a section about public speaking fear titled Would You Rather Be Dead?:

“When surveys are done on what people’s greatest fears are, guess what almost always comes out on top? Public speaking.
There was one survey that put public speaking at number one and death at number seven, which lead to an awesome joke from Jerry Seinfeld when he astutely pointed out that most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
The fear of public speaking is classic social anxiety and if the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s figures are correct, that means just over 19 out of 20 people in the USA are happy to give a talk in public.
Like fuck they are!
I think it’s closer to flip those figure and say 19 out of 20 people would be anxious at the thought of standing up in front of 100 people and giving a talk.
When you look at it like that, perhaps my figure of 100 million is actually a conservative estimate?
If you are scared of speaking in public, then you have social anxiety.
If you get anxious at the thought of going to a party where you don’t know anybody, then you have social anxiety.
If the thought of of meeting a person of authority worries you, then you have social anxiety.
If being watched while you undergo a task, even something benign as eating, makes you highly uncomfortable, then you have social anxiety.”

That section about public speaking is nonsense. Before Halloween in 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.

In my post titled What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? I included a bar chart with percentages for lifetime prevalence of both fear and phobia from the National Comorbidity Survey - Replication for various situations including public speaking/performance, meeting new people, talking to people in authority, going to parties, etc. For any social fear the lifetime prevalence is 24.1%, and for any social phobia it’s 12.1%.That’s real data, unlike the 100 million that Tim, to put it politely, pulled out of thin air. 

Rather curiously on October 1st he blogged about how If you don’t think you’re a dumbass, you maybe a dumbass.

An image of a donkey by Carol Highsmith is from the Library of Congress

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A study of American childhood fears, from way back in 1897

Halloween is coming up, so once again it is time to discuss what scares children (and adults). Back in January of 1897 professor Granville Stanley Hall published a 103 page magazine article in Volume 8, Number 2, pages 147 to 249 of The American Journal of Psychology simply titled A Study of Fears. You can read the full text at JSTOR.

This was not a modern survey done on a random sample. Instead Professor Hall repeatedly sent out a detailed syllabus to 748 people describing in detail what he was looking for regarding fears. It also was reprinted in some educational journals and by teachers. With the last two paragraphs moved to the top it went:

“This syllabus is drawn up by the undersigned, and is sent to you with the request that you will read it carefully item by item, and (1) jot down at once in the easiest form of notes whatever each paragraph or phrase recalls of your own childish fears; (2) that if you are a parent you will add to this any observations this paper may suggest or recall on your own children (it may aid you if you keep a ‘life book’ or memoranda in any form about them); (3) that if you are a teacher, you will reads this paper to your class, write it on the board, or give it to individual pupils (of upper grammar or high school grades) and ask them to write as an exercise in composition (setting apart an hour, or asking for out of school work) an account of their own early or present fears; (4) if you are a normal school principal or teacher of psychology, you may connect it with class work in the study of feelings or emotions; (5) if you are a principal or superintendent, you can assign the work to some teacher or pupil to collect the data. All returns may be anonymous if preferred, but age, sex and nationality must be stated in every case.

Returns may be sent direct to the undersigned or, if preferred, may be studied by you, and will make the best of material for a lesson in psychology, for a discussion in a meeting of teachers or mothers, or an address, or an article for the press. When you are  entirely done with the material thus gathered and used, send it to the undersigned.  

“ONE Fears of celestial phenomena, as e.g., of winds, storms, thunder and lightning, heavenly bodies, meteors, sky falling, cloud, mist, fog and cloud forms; end of the world and attendant phenomena; night and darkness, eclipse; moon breaking, that the sun may not rise; peculiar sky colors, northern lights, excessive heat and cold, loss of orientation, and points of compass.

TWO Special inanimate objects such as fire and conflagration; water, drowning and washing or being washed; punishment and its instruments, and things and places associated with it; falling and of high places; uncanny places such as caves, ravines, gorges, forest gloom, high hills and solitude generally, and getting lost or shut up; guns and weapons; points, sharp edges, very narrow or wide open spaces; dirt on garments or skin, and contact generally; vehicles and riding.

THREE Living things, self-moving things generally; big eyes, mouth, teeth; dog, cat, snakes, pigs, rats and mice, spiders, bugs, and beetles, toads, etc.; sight of blood, robbers and burglars, strangers, society and bashfulness; fear of being laughed at, talked of or being ridiculous; shyness of opposite sex; fear of fighting; cowardice, poltroonery, suspiciousness.

FOUR Disease, dying, death, loss of friends, position, fortune, beauty, or of health generally; heart disease, cancers, fits, consumption, starvation, fear of prevalent diseases, or those read of.

FIVE Fears of the supernatural, e. g., ghosts, spirits, witches, fairies, dragons or mythological monsters; dream fears, conscience fears, as of having committed unpardonable sins; punishments specially incurred or sent from heaven, loss of soul and next world fears generally, fears of sin or impurity.

SIX Describe any sudden experience you have felt or observed, and whether involving only distinct surprise or being intense enough to cause real shock, start, or astonishment, with details of cause, effects and their permanence; terrors, without danger or cause other than a hereditary or a traumatic disposition to timidity.   

SEVEN In each case state order and age of fears, how long they lasted, how intense they were, what acts they prompted, and educational good or bad effects; was sleep affected? State specific symptoms, starting, paleness or sweat, urinations, rigidity, cramps, horripilations and ‘creepy crawling’ feelings, nausea, weakness, fainting, flight, causes, treatments, and cures.”

1,701 persons responded, and they described a total of 6,456 chief fears. He roughly grouped 5,037 of them into 29 categories. Table 1 on page 152 listed the number of persons with each fear. He didn’t mention the gender distribution for those 1,701 persons. (In Table 2 he compared 500 boys and 500 girls, so there might have been up to 1201 boys). 

A bar chart shows the overall results from Table I converted to percentages. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). The ten most common fears were: thunder and lightning (35.4%), reptiles (28.4%), strange persons (25.6%), darkness (25.4%), fire (21.5%), death (17.6%), domestic animals (15.8%), disease (14.2%), wild animals (12.1%), and water (12.1%). Note that public speaking or any related term like elocution, oration, or oratory, doesn’t appear.

A second bar chart shows the results from Table II on page 153 for 28 well-described fears of 500 girls and 500 boys. They were converted to percentages for comparison with those from Table I.

For girls the ten most common fears were: thunder and lightning (46%), persons (38%),
reptiles (36%), darkness (34.2%), death (20.4%), domestic animals (19.2%), rats and mice (15%), insects (14.8%), ghosts (14.4%), and wind (12.2%). End of the world was 11th (10.6%).

For boys the ten most common fears were: thunder and lightning (31%), darkness (26%), persons (25.8%), reptiles (24.6%), death (14.8%), water (12.4%), domestic animals (11.4%), insects (10.4%), ghosts (8.8%), and heights (8.6%).

For just the three fears of Water (10.6% girls, 12.4% boys), Heights (8.0% girls, 8.6% boys), and Shyness (1.6% girls, 1.8% boys) a higher percentage of boys were afraid than girls. In the other 25 cases a higher percentage of girls than boys were afraid, including all of their top ten.

Again, note that public speaking or any related term like elocution, oration, or oratory, doesn’t appear - and both shyness and ridicule have low percentages.

The classifications used in Table I and Table II are not completely consistent, as shown above.  

Then Professor Hall’s article continues with 25 sections on the fears of:

1]   High Places and Falling: Gravity Fears
2]   Losing Orientation
3]   Closeness
4]   Water
5]   Wind
6]   Celestial Objects
7]   Fire: Pyrophobia
8]   Darkness
9]   Dream Fears 

10] Shock
11] Thunder
12] Animals
13] Eyes
14] Teeth: Odontophobia
15] Fur: Doraphobia
16] Feathers
17] Special Fears of Persons
18] Solitude
19] Death
20] Diseases
21] Moral and Religious Fears
22] End of the World
23] Ghosts
24] Morbid
25] School Fears

It concludes with a 26th section on Repressions of Fears.

In 2006 Joanna Bourke published her book Fear a cultural history (Shoemaker Hoard). On page 34 she referred to Hall’s article but claimed:

“In the 1890s an influential sociologist was surprised to find that the dread of being buried alive was spontaneously mentioned by people when they were asked to describe their major fears.”

My bar chart of Table II shows that being buried alive was the 19th most common fear for girls and the 24th for boys. Also, Professor Hall likely was turning over in his grave at being called a sociologist!

An image of high school students in 1899 came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Using graphics to see an argument more clearly

Sometimes the only way to check on an argument is by looking at a map or other graphic. On September 25th at the blog for the Idaho Freedom Foundation Wayne Hoffman posted about how the Tax Law Rewrite Should Be Open To The Public. That blog post also appeared as a guest opinion article in the Idaho Press Tribune. He said that:

“....The rewriting of the income tax code is also a topic that deserves absolute transparency and openness. Lewiston Tribune editorial writer Marty Trillhaase noted Friday that’s not what Idahoans are getting from this state Legislature. A group of Idaho lawmakers has been meeting in secret to work through the logistics of what it would take to fix Idaho’s broken tax code. The group includes the chairmen of the House and Senate tax committees as well lawmakers from throughout Idaho, both Republican and Democrat. The non-partisan Legislative Services Office staff is facilitating the meetings, which have also been attended by officials from the governor’s office and the state Department of Commerce. “

I agree the tax code is a topic that deserves transparency, but was confused by why it took Wayne until his third paragraph to get to that main point. He instead began by warning:

“Idaho has a serious problem with its tax system. The state’s income taxes are the highest in the Intermountain Region, with a top marginal income tax rate of 7.4 percent. It’s a deterrent to people wanting to move here and to people wanting to stay. State officials have worked for the last 15 years to bring the rate down from the nosebleed top rate of 8.2 percent to where it is today. At the start of the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Butch Otter unambitiously suggested clipping the current top rate by a tenth of a percent every year for four years, but he never introduced legislation to do it. A proposal to eliminate the sales tax on groceries and get the top rate to 6.5 percent right away passed the House but was denied a vote in the Senate.”

I went to Wikipedia to check on the definition for the Intermountain states, which (as shown above) are the six with land west of the Rockies and east of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. Note that only Idaho’s two southern neighbors, Nevada and Utah are included.

Then I went to the Tax Foundation’s web site and downloaded their Facts and Figures publication to check the state income tax rates in Table 12. They are shown in the following bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version).

Mr. Hoffman is correct about Idaho being highest, but he didn’t bother to mention that Nevada has no income tax (which I’ve shown last as a rate of zero) and also has no sales tax. So, how could we ever hope to compete with them?

We can get a somewhat broader comparison by instead looking at the eight Mountain States (as shown above) that also include Idaho’s two eastern neighbors, Montana and Wyoming. State income tax rates in those eight states are shown in the following bar chart. Wyoming also has no income tax (which I’ve again shown as a rate of zero).

We really also should include Idaho’s two western neighbors, Washington and Oregon in a comparison of tax rates.

As shown above, we can compare with our six neighbors. The following bar chart shows Washington also has no income tax (shown as a rate of zero). Now Idaho  doesn’t have the highest rate. Instead Oregon, which has no sales tax, does.

Mr. Hoffman began his second paragraph by claiming:

“Getting the top income tax rate dramatically lower is an important step in securing the state’s economic vitality. The high tax rate impacts everyone, rich and poor.”

He ended with:

“Unwinding all the special interest breaks to get an income tax rate that is super low and fair to everyone is important work.”

Three of our six neighbors have no income tax. (Four other states without one are Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, and Texas). I can’t see how lowering Idaho’s income rates (to perhaps 4.5% or less) would help us. Becoming fourth out of seven won’t make us win a battle that is already lost. To me it seems transparently silly. 

For another viewpoint, see the Better Idaho blog post on Idaho's Race to the Bottom.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Outline notes are a visual aid for the speaker

On September 16th the web site for Johnson & Hunter, Inc. about Speaking Skills for Lawyers had a web page with an excellent brief article by Marsha Hunter on Notes as Your Visual Aid. Her four rules for a speaking outline are to:

Write big.
Write legibly.
Keep notes simple.
Keep notes handy.

There also is a YouTube video, Notes Are a Visual Aid for the Speaker.

Keep in mind that you could either use a piece of 11”×17″ ledger paper or tape together two 8-1/2” × 11” sheets to create a notes page the size of a restaurant menu.

The Public Speaking Project has a 16-page freely downloadable .pdf Chapter 8 about Organizing and Outlining.

An image of a woman reading a letter was adapted from a painting at Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Should you begin reviewing your speech by watching the video as a silent movie?

On September 28th Fred E. Miller blogged at NO SWEAT Public Speaking about how VIDEO Allows YOU to See and Hear Yourself as...(Others See and Hear You!). I agree with him that video is a powerful tool, but disagree with his suggested review sequence:

First: Watch with the sound off
Second: Listen without watching
Third: Watch and Listen

He said watching with the sound muted should come first since nonverbal trumps verbal. I would suggest instead that you watch and listen first, listen without watching second, and watch with the sound off third. You aren’t a silent film actor (or a mime), so you are not used to conveying a message without words. Why would you start by doing something that probably will be disappointing and knock you down? 

Back in 2012 at Public Words Nick Morgan blogged about Seven ways to rehearse a speech, which were to:

Rehearse the Content
The Logical Structure Rehearsal
Rehearse the Non-verbal Conversation
Rehearse the Emotions
The Walk-Through Rehearsal
The Opening Rehearsal
The Dress Rehearsal

Nick mentions The Babble Exercise, which also could be used for a practice video:

“One really useful exercise for improving your non-verbal performance is the babble exercise. How does this work? You stand up in front of one or two very close colleagues or friends, and give the speech without using recognizable words. Instead, babble, while trying to convey as much of the speech as you can with your facial expressions and gestures.”

A movie poster for Counted Out (1914) came from Wikimedia Commons.