Experimental Models for the Evaluation of Speech and Public Speaking Anxiety: A Critical Review of the Designs Adopted

By Osorio, Flavia de Lima; Crippa, Jose Alexandre et al. | The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Experimental Models for the Evaluation of Speech and Public Speaking Anxiety: A Critical Review of the Designs Adopted


Osorio, Flavia de Lima, Crippa, Jose Alexandre, Loureiro, Sonia Regina, The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis


Introduction

Communication apprehension is defined as "an individual's level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or antecipated communication with another person or persons" (McCroskey, 1984). McCroskey & Richmond (1987) identify four types of communication apprehension: trait-like, context-based, receiver-based and situational. The extent to which this condition is experienced has an inhibitory or facilitating influence on the development of communication competence and communication skill. Studies have shown high communicaton apprehension can have an impact on a person's behavior, relationships, perceptions of others, occupational choice and employment opportunities and education (Richmond, 1984; McCroskey & Richmond, 1987).This topic has attracted the interest of researchers in the areas of Psychology and Education because of the relevance of these indicators for the study of behavior, as demonstrated by the large number of papers published in this area (Payne & Richmond, 1984) and by the delimitation of specific conditions. Particularly important within this context is the fear of public speaking.

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that public speaking fear is the most prevalent fear in the general population (Geer, 1995; Stein, Walker & Forde, 1996), with its prevalence not depending on gender, ethnic group or age (Phillips, Jones, Rieger & Snell, 1997), a fact that has stimulated studies for the evaluation and dimensioning of this specific situation.

Public speaking is also considered to be a powerful psychosocial stressor (Saab, Mattheus, Stoney & McDonald, 1989; Gerder, Turner, Sherwood & Light, 1990), eliciting great anxiety and negative affects, in addition to neuroendocrine, metabolic, immunological, cardiovascular and electrodermal responses (Gonzalez-Bono et al, 2002). Because of these characteristics, public speaking has been also considered to be the most prevalent fear in social anxiety disorder (SAD) (Stein, Walker & Forde, 1994; Furmark et al, 1999).

Since the evaluation of subjective experiences and of emotional states is hampered by the characteristics of these constructs, it is necessary to develop procedures that will permit to evaluate and measure such constructs in an objective, reliable and systematic manner so that the data can be replicated and the situation can be validated as a source of information.

In addition, it is well-known that the anxiety and other subjective states presented in the fear of public speaking can be modified by diverse therapeutical approaches, such as pharmacotherapy and cognitive/behavior therapy. These strategies act upon a variety of measurable states such as physiological responses (heart rate, blood pressure, peripheral pulse volume) and electrodermal activity (skin conductance level, number of spontaneous fluctuation) , among others.

Regarding the evaluation of anxiety experiences, we should emphasize the importance of experimental models that permit the exploration of diverse behavioral correlates such as the "psychological" one, in which stimuli and situations external to the individual are employed in order to provoke anxiety, and the "biological" one, in which anxiety is induced by the administration of drugs. Among the psychological experimental models, four are particularly outstanding because of their importance and extensive use in clinical-experimental contexts and will be briefly commented upon below.

The first, denoted "Aversive Noise Conditioning" (Vila & Beech, 1977), evaluates the activity of the sweat glands of the palms of the hands by means of skin conductance responses, which, when increased, can be regarded as an autonomic measure of the response to fear. The model evaluates this physiological response before and after the presentation of a blue light stimulus paired with white noise of aversive intensity.

The second model consists of the "Stroop-Color Word Test", which is based on the induction of a cognitive conflict. …

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