Worry as a Function of Public Speaking State Anxiety Type

By Addison, Penny; Clay, Ele et al. | Communication Reports, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Worry as a Function of Public Speaking State Anxiety Type


Addison, Penny, Clay, Ele, Xie, Shuang, Sawyer, Chris R., Behnke, Ralph R., Communication Reports


Although most speakers become progressively more comfortable while presenting public speeches, a process called habituation, many others experience increased psychological discomfort, usually during the first moments of their presentations. Previous researchers refer to this phenomenon as sensitization. One explanation for these pattern differences is that excessive worrying disrupts the processing of emotional stimuli thereby contributing to sensitization. In the present study, 60 speakers, 30 of each pattern type, present five-minute informative speeches to audiences composed of 20 peers plus an instructor. Immediately following the presentations, speakers indicate the degree to which they made negative self-statements while speaking. The results demonstrate that sensitizers report more worrisome thoughts during public speaking than habituators. In the present study, differences in pattern type account for 39.6% of the variance in worry during public speaking.

Although many people experience public speaking anxiety (APA, 2000), state anxiety varies considerably during a speech performance. Close examination of psychological state anxiety for individual speakers before, during, and after public speaking reveals two distinct response patterns (Behnke & Sawyer, 2001). Specifically, most speakers become progressively more comfortable while presenting public speeches, a process called habituation (Rachman & Levitt, 1988). However, for a substantial number of individuals, the first moment of speaking elevates their anxiety for much if not all of the speaking situation, creating a sensitization effect (Sawyer & Behnke, 2002) that forestalls normal functioning in speaking situations. One explanation for these different patterns in adaptation is that worrying during performance disrupts the processing of stimuli thereby contributing to sensitization. In the present study, both patterns of public speaking anxiety will be examined in relation to the tendency of speakers to worry during performance.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE

State Anxiety Pattern Types

According to Spielberger (1966), state anxiety is "a transitory state or condition of the organism that varies in intensity and fluctuates over time" (p. 12). Despite these moment-by-moment fluctuations, Behnke and his research associates are able to establish overall patterns for psychological (Behnke & Beatty, 1981; Carlile, Behnke, & Kitchens, 1977) and physiological (Behnke & Carlile, 1971; Behnke, Carlile, & Lamb, 1974) speech anxiety. In these studies, state anxiety is plotted at key moments or milestones before, during and immediately following speech performance. For example, psychological public speaking state anxiety is highest during anticipation (approximately one minute before speaking) and declines at each milestone thereafter. Several recent studies, however, provide evidence for two wave-forms within this general trend.

In a series of studies, Beck and Shipherd (Beck, Ohtake, & Shipherd, 1999; Beck & Shipherd, 1997; Beck, Shipherd, & Read, 1999; Beck, Shipherd, & Zebb, 1997; Shipherd & Beck, 1998) report that they detected two types of state anxiety reactions and attributed each to a distinct psychological process. According to these investigators, many participants experience high levels of state anxiety at the onset of a threatening event (such as breathing enriched levels of CO2) that decline progressively with repeated or continued exposure. This pattern is associated with habituation to stress. A second response pattern, in which state anxiety rises dramatically at confrontation and either remains high or does not decline appreciably, is associated with sensitization. Consequently, participants displaying these patterns are labeled as habituators and sensitizers respectively. Behnke and Sawyer (2001) also identified state anxiety patterns that represent the processes of habituation and sensitization during public speaking. …

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