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February 1996

Public-Speaking Fears in a Community Sample: Prevalence, Impact on Functioning, and Diagnostic Classification

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.