Recent biological theories of state anxiety have focused on temperament and neurophysiology as factors that predispose some people to be particularly at risk of debilitating levels of performance anxiety. The present study extends Gray's (1982; Gray & McNaughton, 2000) reinforcement sensitivity theory by proposing a linkage between sensitivity to punishment and negative explanatory style as predisposing students to anxiety during public speaking. Sensitivity to punishment and negative explanatory style combined to predict 38.2% of the variance in state anxiety during public speaking. Evaluation and grading pervade public speaking instruction and are potentially punishing forms of reinforcement. Therefore, educators should take account of personality differences among students and use more descriptive than evaluative feedback when addressing students high in sensitivity to punishment and negative explanatory style.
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