Psychological interventions for the Fear of Public Speaking: A meta-analysis

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Abstract

Background: Fear of Public Speaking (FoPS) or public speaking anxiety is a type of social anxiety and the single most commonly feared situation in the population. FoPS is disabling with negative occupational, academic, and social consequences, reported by up to one third of the population. FoPS in adolescence and adulthood is associated with an increased risk of developing generalized social anxiety disorder with further impairments. Since the last review on FoPS, a significant number of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been conducted assessing the effects of novel interventions with innovative modes of delivery. Objectives: The objectives of the present meta-analysis are to (1) examine the short and long-term effects of psychological interventions aimed at FoPS on FoPS and generalized social anxiety; (2) assess whether differences exist between technology-assisted modes of delivery (e.g., Internet-delivered therapies) and more traditional modes of delivering treatment (e.g., face-to-face therapies); (3) investigate whether differences in effect exist between theoretical frameworks; (4) inspect the differences in effect size between self-report measures and other measures (i.e., physiological and behavioral); (5) examine the effects of psychological interventions aimed at FoPS on secondary outcome measures (e.g., depression); and (6) investigate whether a "sleeper effect" is present for psychological interventions for FoPS and generalized social anxiety. Methods: The study investigates the effects of psychological interventions for FoPS through a quantitative meta-analysis of RCTs, using a random-effects model. Results: A total of 30 RCTs with 1,355 participants were included through systematic searches of PsycINFO, MEDLINE, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library. The majority of the studies investigated the effects of cognitive or behavioral interventions. Nearly half of the studies used active control groups (e.g., attention placebo), whereas the other half used passive (e.g., waitlist) controls. The overall effect of psychological interventions for FoPS across 62 interventions was 0.74 (Hedges g; 95% CI: 0.61-0.87) with low to moderate heterogeneity. No difference in effect was found across theoretical frameworks. The effects based on self-report measures were larger compared to physiological and behavioral outcomes. Effects were robust against both active and passive control groups. Furthermore, psychological interventions for FoPS had a small to moderate effect on generalized social anxiety disorder (g = 0.35; 95% CI: 0.22-0.48). The effect of psychological interventions aimed at FoPS at follow-up was large (g = 1.11, 95% CI: 0.90-1.31) and moderate to large for generalized social anxiety (g = 0.70, 95% CI: 0.59-0.80). A sleeper effect was found for cognitive and behavioral interventions, indicating that patients continued to improve after treatment termination. There were some indications of publication bias. Conclusions: Psychological interventions are effective in reducing FoPS. Interventions using technology-assisted modes of delivery are equally effective as traditional face-to-face interventions in reducing FoPS. This finding highlights an opportunity to increase access to evidence-based treatments through technology-delivered interventions, which can be implemented at schools, in primary care and specialist mental health care. Moreover, psychological interventions aimed at FoPS have an effect on generalized social anxiety. Further implications are discussed.

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Ebrahimi, O. V., Pallesen, S., Kenter, R. M. F., & Nordgreen, T. (2019). Psychological interventions for the Fear of Public Speaking: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00488

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