30 October 2015

This is Scary!

Tomorrow is Halloween. OOOooooo. Are you ready to be frightened? 

What are you afraid of? (Photo
from multiple websites)

Welcome back. The big news in scary things is Chapman University’s second Survey of American Fears. You may have seen a headline Government Corruption is American’s Top Fear. Or possibly you read Nearly 1 in 10 Americans Fear Ghosts. Yep, that’s what they found, but let me break it down.

Survey of Fear

Last April, the researchers asked a random sample of 1,541 adults across the U.S. to rate 88 different fears from 1 (not afraid) to 4 (very afraid). The study summaries report combined values of afraid and very afraid, unfortunately, with no measure of statistically valid differences.

For the big picture, the 88 fears were categorized into 10 domains. The researchers ranked the domains, most to least feared, based on the average afraid and very afraid ratings of all fears in each domain.

A cursory look at the domain ratings suggests some values are too close to be statistically separable, meaning some domain ranks may not hold. Nevertheless, Man-Made Disasters, which included fear of terrorist attack, economic collapse and war, among others, was the most feared domain. The other domains in ranked order were Technology, Government, Environment, Personal Future, Natural Disaster, Crime, Personal Anxieties, Daily Life and Judgement of Others. 

Top Fears

To compare the 88 specific fears, the researchers used the percentage of survey respondents who reported being afraid or very afraid of each fear. 

Corruption of government officials earned the top spot, being feared by 58.0% of the respondents. Cyber-terrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, and terrorist attacks followed, all feared by 44% to 45% of the respondents. Completing the top ten fears were government tracking of personal information, bio-warfare, identity theft, economic collapse, running out of money, and credit card fraud, the last being feared by about 37% of the respondents. Gun control missed a top ten rating by only 0.4%.

Fear of a feline zombie.
(Photo from multiple websites)
Although you’ll want to see the entire list, I’ll note that fear of reptiles ranked just below fear of nuclear attack. Also, the percentage of respondents who feared corruption of government officials, the number one fear, was about double the percentage of those fearing public speaking; about 3 times those fearing needles; and about 7 times those fearing zombies. (8.5% feared zombies.)

Why Are People Afraid?

The researchers examined what types of people tend to fear certain things and what personal characteristics tend to be associated with the most types of fear for their first survey in 2014. They considered factors such as age, gender, race, work status, education, income, geographic region, urban/rural, political preference, religion, TV watching and gun ownership.

Key fear factors--the most consistent predictors of greater numbers of fears--were a low level of education, watching of talk TV and watching true crime TV.

Wrap Up

I would have been surprised to see corruption of government officials at the top of the list if I hadn’t been aware that earlier Gallup polls found increasing concern about the threat of government to rights and freedoms. But like fear of snakes, which I blogged about two years ago (Afraid of Snakes?), there’s more to the story.

Gallup’s discussion of its 2015 poll points out that these attitudes are more a response to the president and his policies than a fundamental feeling about the federal government. That was shown when the administration changed in 2009 and the threat concern of Democrats and Republicans actually flipped.

Gallup also found that the explanations offered by those concerned about the threat revealed more traditional or political complaints about government than radical beliefs about the government using power or force against its citizens.

So, don’t be afraid, enjoy Halloween and thanks for stopping by.


Chapman University report and 3-hour video on 2015 survey:
Example articles on Chapman University survey:
Chapman University report on why people are afraid:
Gallup’s 2015 survey: www.gallup.com/poll/185720/half-continue-say-gov-immediate-threat.aspx
Gallup’s 2013 survey: www.gallup.com/poll/166535/record-high-say-big-government-greatest-threat.aspx


  1. Warrren:

    The Chapman Survey results aren't as scary as they seem. See: