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Study Reports Public Speaking is Easier After Learning About Stress

Update Date: Apr 09, 2013 02:29 PM EDT

Public speaking is one of the most dreaded and inevitable tasks in every one's life, and is listed as the number one phobia in the United States. Whether it is for school or work, people cannot seem to avoid public speaking, which is why researchers have looked into ways to make it more bearable. Researchers from the University of Rochester evaluated the effects of public speaking on people who have been prepped on the benefits of stress, and found that those who learned about stress fared better at giving a presentation than those who did not get the educating brief on stress.

The research team, headed by Jeremy Jamieson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University, observed the effects of reframing common perception of stress. Jamieson explains that stress often has a negative connotation due to stigma and he wanted to see what would happen if people perceived stress as a good thing.

"The problem is that we think all stress is bad. Before speaking in public, people often interpret stress sensations, like butterflies in the stomach, as a warning that something bad is about to happen," He stated. "But those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation. The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscles groups and delivering more oxygen to our brains."

In order to show that not all stress is bad or threatening, Jamieson and co-authors Matthew Nock and Wendy Berry Mendes, enlisted the help of 69 adults. Each individual was told to present a five-minute summary of his or her strengths and weaknesses with only three minutes to prep. Around half of the group of participants had a history of social anxiety, but everyone was randomly assigned into two separate groups. The first group was given a mini seminar regarding the benefits of the body's responses to stress and was encouraged to pay attention to those responses and their benefits during the presentation. This group also received three summaries describing different studies that concluded that stress was advantageous. The other group did not receive any information regarding stress.

After presenting in front of two judgmental listeners who were informed to portray negative feedback through body language, such as tapping on the clipboards, the researchers found that the second group of individuals experienced a threat response, where as the first group did not. The group that received the stress reframing also stated that they felt better during their public speaking task. This study provides insight as to how people might be able to combat the body's response to stress during public speaking and hopefully the task would no longer be so dreaded.

The findings were published in Clinical Psychological Science.

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