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2012.07.17 > For Immediate Release
contact: Charley Reed - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2129 - email: cdreed@unomaha.edu

Dwyer, Davidson Disprove Public Speaking Fear as 'Worse Than Death'

Omaha - Public speaking is feared more than death; or is it?

Jerry Seinfeld famously joked that most people would "be better off in the casket than giving the eulogy" if they had to attend a funeral, but University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) researchers from the School of Communication have recently published a study that shows the decades-old adage is actually false.

In an article published in the April-June 2012 issue of Communication Research Reports, Karen Kangas Dwyer, director of the award-winning Public Speaking Fundamentals program and assistant director of the School of Communication, and Marlina Davidson, UNO Speech Center coordinator, re-examine the origins of the idea that public speaking scares people more than death.

The idea originated from a study done by the R.H. Bruskin Associates research firm in 1973 that asked over 2500 participants what their greatest fears were. While the original findings showed that 41 percent of those surveyed chose speaking in front of a group as their greatest fear out of a list of 14 choices, what wasn't reported was that the choices were not ranked.

"Few, if any, researchers have investigated the origins of the Bruskin Fears study," Dwyer said. "This is in spite of how often public speaking has been rightly or wrongly referenced, again and again, as a fear worse than death, especially articulated in communication classrooms and workshops."

Dwyer, who has authored several books on speech anxiety, including the new ebook iConquer Speech Anxiety, said that the structuring of the original study actually lists death as a seventh most common fear selected behind other common fears like bugs and heights.

"Although later publications that cite the Bruskin study make it sound as though death was ranked second, this was not the case," she explained.

By asking hundreds of college students, Dwyer and Davidson found that while public speaking is certainly the most commonly selected fear at nearly 62 percent, death is consistently ranked higher as a top fear with public speaking and financial hardship coming in at second and third respectively.

Dwyer said the results show Seinfield's skepticism was well founded.

"In answer to the question of whether or not public speaking is the number one fear, the answer is yes, it is the most common fear," she said. "However, it is not the top-rated fear – that belongs to death."

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The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s metropolitan university. The core values of the institution place students at the center of all that the university does; call for the campus to strive for academic excellence; and promote community engagement that transforms and improves urban, regional, national and global life. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908.

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