Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fear of public speaking versus fear of snakes

Back in February 2001 Gallup polled Americans about their fears. They sampled 1016 people and reported what percentage expressed fear of various topics. Their poll reportedly had a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. The article about their results was titled Snakes top list of Americans’ fears. That actually is a somewhat misleading generalization which overlooks real gender differences, but in an October 23 blog post Lisa Braithwaite quoted it again anyway.

For women the fear of public speaking (44%) ranks significantly below the much worse top fear, of snakes (62%). For men fear of public speaking (37%) and fear of snakes (38%) were approximately equal. When you pool the data and put men and women together you get that 51% of the people fear snakes, but only 40% fear public speaking.

The detailed list of fears is shown in the following table. I have listed them in decreasing order for women (first column of numbers). The second column of numbers, for men shows significant gender differences. Column 3 lists the pooled results for the 2001 survey, and column 4 lists the pooled results for a 1998 survey.

Fears in order of decreasing percent (for women),
___________________________________2001 1998
_________________________Women Men Both Both
Snakes ______________________62__ 38__ 51__ 56
Public speaking _______________44 __37__ 40__ 45
Being closed in a small space____42__ 25__ 34__ 36
Heights_______________________41__ 31__ 36__ 41
Spiders and insects____________38___15__27__ 34
Mice_______________________33___ 6__20___26
Flying on an airplane__________22___14__18___20
Needles and getting shots______21___20___21__21
Thunder & lightning___________16___6____11__17
The dark___________________8____2___5___8
Going to the doctor___________8____11__9___12

Public speaking is scary for both men and women. Women find public speaking to be scarier than men do, but they find snakes to be much scarier. Fortunately for most people practice gradually reduces the fear and makes speaking tolerable (or even pleasant).

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