What are Americans most afraid of? To answer that question, Chapman University commissioned a survey of 1,500 people, and here, from the press release, are the top five fears:
• Walking alone at night.
• Becoming the victim of identity theft.
• General safety on the internet.
• Being the victim of a mass shooting.
• Public speaking.
Two factors seem to make people more afraid in general: relatively little education and too much television. The least educated people who watched the most TV were more fearful than those who had at least a college degree and watched less TV. In particular, watching talk shows and true-crime series like Dateline or 20/20 was associated with having more fear. (Though that doesn’t necessarily mean that these kinds of programs cause fear, because it’s possible that people who are already more afraid are more likely to watch them.)
Each of the things on that list is scary in its own ways, sure. But the odds of many of the incidents actually happening to you are very low; this is why the criminologists at the university were especially frustrated by the fears over violent crime:
“What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years,” said Dr. Edward Day, who led this portion of the research and analysis, in the press release. “When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down.”
The authors offered no such reassurances on the waking nightmare that is public speaking, which, one can only assume, means that this particular fear is perfectly logical and justifiable.