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Public Speaking Phobia

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Public speaking phobia is an intense and irrational fear of experiencing judgment by others when speaking in front of public or being embarrassed or humiliated in such situations causing dread, panic, and avoidance (Teachman, 2010). More accurately, it is not the scrutiny and negative judgments themselves but the speaker’s own emotional response to them; the feeling of shame, rejection or humiliation that causes intense fear in the speaker. Sufferers recognize that their fear is excessive or unreasonable but they feel powerless to do anything to change their responses (Teachman, 2010). Therefore, the feared situation – such as presentations, speeches, and meetings are avoided or else endured with intense anxiety or distress. In Bill’s situation, he suffers from intense fear of intense fear of public speaking and finds new ways of avoiding situations that involve speaking in front of audience, until his recent promotion at work.

In work situations the fear most commonly occurs around formal presentations and meetings, which is similar in Bill’s case. He has dreaded public speaking in high school, and avoided public speaking classes in college. Bill’s phobia of public speaking can be explained by a natural reflex (anxiety, and fear) in response to a stimulus (public speaking), this concept is known as Classical Conditioning (“Behaviorism”, 2011). Classical conditioning occurs, when a stimulus (possibly a conditioned stimulus, CS) elites and unconditioned response (US), or a reflex. Conditioning stimulus (CS) is ignited through environmental factors, in Bill’s case the CS could be people cracking jokes, or incorporating humor during Bill’s speech can stimulate a natural response or reflex (US) such as shame, and embracement in Bill. According to classical conditioning, Bill’s phobia is a learned behavior that could date back to a time in which he incurred a similar situation in which the audience members laughed at his speech, and in response to such an incident he developed an aversive reaction to public speaking. Thus, each time he is asked to speak in front an audience, he recalls the incident that occurred in his past and develops a feeling of intense fear and rejection, and tries to avoid the situation.

Operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced (“Behaviorism”, 2011). There are two types of reinforcements described in operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment. Positive reinforcement occurs when the reinforcement is an additional stimulus occurring after the behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again (“Behaviorism”, 2011). An example of positive reinforcement is after getting good grades in school; Hanna’s parents buy her a new laptop. Negative reinforcement is the removal of an undesirable stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior recurring (“Behaviorism”, 2011). Therefore, both positive and negative reinforcement always increase the likelihood of the behavior immediately preceding it being repeated. Punishment, on the other hand is the removal of a desired stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior recurring. For example, John’s mother took away his driving privileges when she caught him sneaking out of the house one night.

Bill’s phobia can be explained by operant conditioning in terms of negative punishment. His unpleasant experience with public speaking in the past decreased the likelihood of him ever speaking in front of public again. Observational learning, also called social learning theory occurs when an individuals’ behavior changes after viewing the behavior of the model (“Observational Learning”, 2010). In social learning theory, the observer is likely to imitate the model’s behavior if the model possesses characteristics such as power, intelligence, or popularity that he observer finds desirable (“Observational Learning”, 2010). In Bill’s case, it could be that he encountered an incident in the past, where the person he admired endured repulsive consequences while speaking in public, and in response Bill after observing this, avoids situations in which public speaking is required. “In observational learning, the observer will react to the way the model is treated, and mimics their behavior” (“Observational Learning”, 2010), similar to Bill’s case.

In psychology, extension refers to the gradual weakening of a conditioned response (learned response) that results in the behavior decreasing or disappearing (“Behaviorism, 2011). In classical conditioning, extension when the conditional stimulus (environment factor) is no longer paired with an unconditional response (innate or natural reflex). In operant conditioning extension is possible if the trained behavior is no longer reinforced, or if the reinforcement is no long rewarding. In Bill’s situation, the process of extension can be used to help overcome his fear of public speaking. Bill’s anxiety originally occurred due to intense fear of failure or public embarrassment in case the public disliked his speech or if he makes errors during his speech, and if the negative reaction be removed from the situation, or replaced by a positive reaction from the audience, and applaud after the speech, can therefore eliminate his phobia of public speaking. Although individuals who suffer from phobias, such as public speaking find it difficult to overcome their fears, and anxiety, gradual steps can be taken toward improvement.

Cognitive learning can help overcome fear of public speaking immensely. The ultimate goal of therapist incorporating cognitive behavioral techniques to overcome phobias in their patients is to replace the self-inflicting negative thoughts with positive thinking. People who suffer from public speaking phobia often have misconceptions about to ability to successfully persuade the audience in a positive manner (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapy can help patients look past previous experiences of guilt, embarrassment, or anger over past situations and move forward with a renewed interest in public speaking (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapy could help Bill conquer his public speaking phobia, by replacing his underlying core beliefs, also known as schemas, which influence how we interoperate our environment, in a positive manner (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapy can help Bill become more assertive in social situations, and gain self-confidence for speaking in front of an audience (Cuncic, 2012).

Majority of people suffer through intense fear concerning to public speaking, some more than others. As mentioned above, environment factors are significant contributors of enforcing such fears. Individuals who suffer through public speaking phobia have had bad experiences related to public speaking in the past that contributed to develop an aversive reaction toward public speaking. However, when an incident occurs where the individual is admired and applauded for their speech, their phobia can become gradually extinct. Cognitive behavioral therapists (CBT) can also help these individuals regain self-confidence by positive thinking, and tackling perfectionism and being more realistic concerning speaking publicly (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapists can also help in dealing with procrastination with public speaking as well. Similar to Bill’s case, he avoided giving speeches at work, which he was required to do on a weekly basis. Cognitive therapy could be the best solution to help Bill overcome his phobia.

Reference Page:

Behaviorism. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.funderstanding.com/theory/behaviorism/ Cuncic, A. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from http://socialanxietydisorder.about.com/od/treatmentoptions/a/cbt.htm Observational Learning. (2010). Retrieved from

http://www.funderstanding.com/educators/observational-learning/ Teachman, B. .. (2010). Social Phobia and Public Speaking Anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.div12.org/PsychologicalTreatments/disorders/socialphobia_main.php

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