Re-thinking anxiety: Using inoculation messages to reduce and reinterpret public speaking fears

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    Abstract

    Inoculation theory offers a framework for protecting individuals against challenges to an existing attitude, belief, or state. Despite the prevalence and damaging effects of public speaking anxiety, inoculation strategies have yet to be used to help individuals remain calm before and during public speaking. We aimed to test the effectiveness of an inoculation message for reducing the onset of public speaking anxiety, and helping presenters interpret their speech-related anxiety more positively. Participants (Mage = 20.14, SD = 2.72) received either an inoculation (n = 102) or control (n = 128) message prior to engaging a public speaking task and reported a range of anxiety-related perceptions. Accounting for personality characteristics and perceptions of task importance, and relative to control participants, those who received the inoculation message reported significantly lower pre-task anxiety, and following the task, reported that they had experienced lower somatic anxiety, and that the inoculation message had caused them to view their nerves in a less debilitating light. Inoculation messages may be an effective strategy for helping participants reframe and reduce their apprehension about public speaking, and investigating their efficacy in other stress-inducing contexts may be worthwhile.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0169972
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume12
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

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