December 06, 2023

Applied Mathematics and Psychology major

from Fayetteville, Georgia

During the summer of 2023, applied mathematics and psychology major Martin Eschman ’24 took a deep dive into the world of public speaking anxiety for summer research.

Martin Eschman giving a presentation alongside a slidedeck in a lecture hallThe Office of Undergraduate Research at Hampden-Sydney provides diverse research opportunities for students to explore their chosen fields. One such opportunity is the Summer Research Program, which enables students to engage in intensive summer research projects supervised by professors. During the summer, students immerse themselves in their chosen disciplines, acquiring invaluable knowledge and hands-on experience not easily found elsewhere. This past summer, applied mathematics and psychology major Martin Eschman ’24 undertook a research project about public speaking anxiety—a common anxiety among college students and professionals.

“I’ve always been passionate about rhetoric and tutoring, so diving into public speaking research was a natural fit,” Martin said. “I always wanted to find more time to participate in summer research, and this was a fantastic way to add to my already existing research knowledge.”

Martin commenced his summer research journey as a freshman in 2021, guided by Elliott Associate Professor of Psychology Ivo Gyurovski ’09. His initial fascination with psychology led him to investigate the influence of power on moral thinking, offering an early exposure to research in his academic journey.

In the fall of his sophomore year, Martin became a consultant and tutor with the Rhetoric Studio. Recognizing the studio's impact on his engagement, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Director of the Rhetoric Studio Miranda Rouse encouraged Martin in the spring of 2023 to delve into summer research focused on the correlation between public speaking anxiety and cortisol levels in classroom settings.

“Our aim was to assess the feasibility of a study on salivary cortisol reactivity induced by stress during public speaking,” Martin said. “We considered multiple factors—cost, samples, gender, race, daily rhythm, caffeine intake, food, and other potential contributors to salivary cortisol levels.”

Martin dedicated the summer to reviewing literature, emphasizing the challenge of synthesizing various sources related to public speaking anxiety.

“Initially, diving into an abundance of sources felt like peeking through a keyhole into the realm of public speaking anxiety research,” Martin said. “With each review, significant salivary cortisol factors emerged, such as gender, race, dietary habits, and smoking, which broadened my perspective on this topic.”

Digging deeper into the correlation between public speaking anxiety and cortisol levels, Martin uncovered a discrepancy in subjective experiences. He highlighted the significance of this discovery, having reviewed nearly 30 primary sources that overlooked this aspect while only encountering two sources that acknowledged its importance. This realization, often overlooked in literature but crucial to experiments, marked a pivotal step in this research.

“All the finicky details certainly proved the possibility of this experiment to be difficult,” Martin said. “Along with the other impacting components, cortisol levels can change with the time of day, which is another major factor to consider when collecting samples in, say, a rhetoric class at Hampden-Sydney. Needless to say, there is a lot that must be considered when moving forward with this research.”

Having absorbed extensive amounts of information from numerous sources, Martin stressed the importance of comprehending the data to prepare for in-classroom research. He advocated for further investigation into specific components that may influence salivary cortisol levels during public speaking.

“Based on my findings, focusing on psychological and physiological components seems pertinent,” Martin said. “Conducting self-reports or interviews for psychological factors and collecting saliva samples for physiological indicators could be valuable approaches.”

“Empowering speakers to gain more control over public speaking situations through consultations and interviews could significantly impact their memory recall and cortisol stress levels,” Martin continued. “This aligns with existing literature and may fill the gaps I encountered, encouraging further research.”

While the scope of this research holds promise, Martin believes collecting data at Hampden-Sydney could lay the foundation before expanding to other institutions—an endeavor that may yield valuable insights for the Rhetoric Studio.

Martin attributes his clarity on the next steps and potential avenues for further investigation to his thorough reviews on public speaking anxiety. Devoting a substantial amount of time to examining the intricacies of public speaking anxiety, cortisol levels, and the factors influencing research, Martin has taken a significant stride in the research process. He has not only comprehended the existing research but also introduced potential avenues for future exploration that could enhance the understanding of public speaking anxiety for the benefit of others.

"I've come to understand and build my foundation upon the wealth of literature I've reviewed," Martin reflected. “This immersive experience symbolizes the limitless opportunities that thrive within the College, especially through initiatives like summer research.”

Through the energy of passionate students and supportive faculty, discoveries continue to redefine academics across diverse disciplines. As the College embraces the evolving landscape of research, it is through stories like Martin's that the enduring legacy of exploration and discovery thrives, shaping the minds and futures of generations to come.

Summer Research Program

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