What Americans Fear Most

What are Americans afraid of? No, it's not Ebola. According to the first large-scale study on fear in America, what we're most worried about is walking alone at night.

The survey, conducted by a multidisciplinary team of Chapman researchers, polled 1,500 adults across the country, asking them questions about each of four basic categories: personal fears, fear of crime, fear of natural disasters and "fear factors" -- meaning what types of personal characteristics more fearful people possess.

“Through a complex series of analyses, we were able to determine what types of people tend to fear certain things, and what personal characteristics tend to be associated with the most types of fear,” Dr. Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman, said in a statement.

The researchers found that what people fear and what they worry about on a day-to-day basis have overlaps, but are also distinct from each other. Overall, the survey found that one major component of fear was a lack of information: Despite dropping crime rates over the past 20 years, for example, the majority of Americans do not feel the U.S. is becoming a safer place. The researchers additionally found that people with a lower level of education (high school diploma or below) and those who watched more television than average were more fearful than others.

Here are American's top "personal" fears, as ranked by the Chapman poll:

  1. Walking alone at night
  2. Becoming the victim of identity theft
  3. Safety on the Internet
  4. Being the victim of a mass/random shooting
  5. Public speaking

By contrast, the top five things Americans are worried or concerned about are:

  1. Having identity stolen on the Internet
  2. Corporate surveillance of Internet activity
  3. Running out of money in the future
  4. Government surveillance of Internet activity
  5. Becoming ill/sick

While crime-related incidents seemed to inspire more fear, worries seemed to revolve around more everyday, close-to-home matters, like finances, health, privacy and Internet usage.

Separately, the researchers polled the sample to determine the most-feared natural disasters:

  1. Tornado/hurricane
  2. Earthquakes
  3. Floods
  4. Pandemic or Major Epidemic
  5. Power Outage

While many Americans feared the outcome of a natural disaster, few had emergency kits or contingency plans prepared for such an event -- even if they lived in a vulnerable area, the researchers found. "We are conducting follow-up studies to examine why so many Americans remain unprepared despite lessons learned from recent natural disasters," Ann Gordon, professor of political science at Chapman and lead researcher for the natural disaster portion of the survey, said in a statement. "And, we are also taking a closer look at 'preppers' -- a community that takes preparedness to the extreme."

A recent Pew survey looking at people's biggest concerns across the globe found a very different set of worries. According to Pew's Global Attitudes study, the world's top concerns are religious and ethnic hatred, inequality, diseases, nuclear weapons, and pollution.