February 1996

Public-Speaking Fears in a Community SamplePrevalence, Impact on Functioning, and Diagnostic Classification

Author Affiliations

From the Anxiety Disorders Research Program, Department of Psychiatry (Drs Stein and Walker) and the Winnipeg Area Study, Department of Sociology (Dr Forde), University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Dr Stein is now with the Department of Psychiatry, University of California—San Diego, La Jolla. Dr Forde is now with the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(2):169-174. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830020087010

Background:  Recent epidemiologic studies have revealed that social phobia is more prevalent than has been previously believed. An unresolved issue is the extent to which public-speaking fears constitute a recognizable form of social phobia in a community sample and, moreover, to what extent these fears are associated with functional morbidity.

Methods:  To examine the prevalence and impact of public-speaking fears and their relationship to social phobia in a community sample, we conducted a randomized telephone survey of 499 residents of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a medium-sized midwestern metropolitan area.

Results:  One third of the respondents reported that they had excessive anxiety when they spoke to a large audience. The onset of fears was early (ie, 50%, 75%, and 90% by the ages of 13, 17, and 20 years, respectively). Anxious cognitions about public speaking included the following fears: doing or saying something embarrassing (64%), one's mind going blank (74%), being unable to continue talking (63%), saying foolish things or not making sense (59%), and trembling, shaking, or showing other signs of anxiety (80%). In total, 10% (n=49) of the respondents reported that public-speaking anxiety had resulted in a marked interference with their work (2%), social life (1%), or education (4%), or had caused them marked distress (8%). Twenty-three persons (5%) had public-speaking anxiety in isolation (ie, without evidence of additional kinds of social fears).

Conclusions:  These data support the inclusion of severe forms of public-speaking fears within the social phobia construct and, furthermore, suggest that publicspeaking anxiety may have a detrimental impact on the lives of many individuals in the community.