Performance Visualization and Behavioral Disruption: A Clarification

Article excerpt

Current data suggest that performance visualization is an effective way to reduce communication apprehension (Ayres, Hopf, & Ayres 1997), but performance visualization has not been as effective in reducing behavioral disruption as might be expected (Ayres & Hopf, 1992; Ayres et al. 1995). One reason for this seems to be the way the rigidity and agitation (Mulac & Sherman, 1973) have been treated in these investigations. In effect, researchers exposed people to performance visualization regardless of whether they exhibited rigid or agitated behavior and then reported whether changes occurred in both of these variables. That procedure is questionable because any person who exhibits rigidity will by definition not exhibit agitation. In order to examine the impact of this confounding factor in work on performance visualization, two studies were undertaken. The first study focused on rigidity and the second on agitation. These studies suggest that performance visualization is more effective in reducing agitation and rigidity than previous research suggests.

Keywords: Communication Apprehension; Performance Visualization; Rigidity; Agitation

Introduction

Communication apprehension (CA) has been found to be a problem for many people (Daly, Caughlin, & Stafford, 1997). Accordingly a considerable amount of work has been devoted to finding ways to reduce CA (Allen, Hunter, & Donohue, 1989).

It appears that CA can be reduced by upgrading skills (Kelly, 1997), changing cognitions (Wilcox, 1997), getting people to relax (Friedrich, Goss, Cunconan, & Lane, 1997), and/or altering the way one envisions oneself as a speaker (Ayres, Hopf, & Ayres, 1997). A meta-analysis (Allen, Hunter, & Donohue, 1989) suggests that all of these approaches are of consequence in reducing fear associated with public speaking. However, our interests align with the way one envisions him/herself as a speaker (i.e., visualization) and the impact of that on certain aspects of public speaking apprehension.

Visualization (Ayres & Hopf, 1985) has become a popular way to reduce CA (Robinson, 1997) because it is effective and easy to employ. Visualization has been demonstrated to reduce communication apprehension (Ayres & Hopf, 1985, 1990) and compares favorably with other interventions (Ayres & Hopf, 1987). This form of visualization involves closing your eyes, relaxing, and listening to a script that describes a successful speaking experience. One difficulty that emerged with this form of visualization was that it reduced CA but did not seem to impact behavior (Kuruvilla, 1989).

In order to correct this difficulty, Ayres and Hopf (1992) developed what they called performance visualization. Performance visualization has been demonstrated to reduce CA and behavioral disruption (Ayres & Hopf, 1992). Performance visualization for a speaker involves watching a videotape of a proficient speaker, making a mental movie of the videotape, and replacing the image of the speaker on the tape with a vivid image of oneself as the speaker.

Even though performance visualization was developed to impact behavior, its impact on behavioral disruptions displayed by apprehensive speakers is modest. For instance, one study reports the procedure to impact agitation, but not rigidity (Ayres & Hopf, 1992). Another study found effects on rigidity but not on agitation (Ayres et al. 1995). Yet another study found effects on both variables (Ayres & Sonandre, 2003). Thus, performance visualization appears to impact behavior but not in a consistent fashion.

On close inspection, the way these authors examined the rigidity and agitation aspects of behavioral disruption may be a contributing factor to these inconsistent findings. In essence, these researchers pretested for all four aspects of behavioral disruption, manipulated performance visualization and compared changes across conditions. …