Americans fear government corruption more than anything else, according to the annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears. More than 60 percent of respondents reported being "afraid" or "very afraid" when it comes to this issue.
For the study, Chapman University researchers asked a random sample of 1,511 adults nationwide about 79 different fears across a variety of topics, including crime, the government, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and more.
It may seem tricky to assign fears to an entire country, but Christopher Bader, professor of sociology at Chapman University, explains that fears can build to become a nationwide event.
"My colleagues and I have been noting the effects of fears with regards to the regular panics we witness in society for years," Bader told Seeker, "such as serial killer panics, the Satanism scares of the 1990s or the current scares about clowns. So I was initially drawn to the topic to try to understand why fear is such a regular part of society and the real impact those fears have upon us, even if they are 'irrational.'"
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According to the survey, the top 10 fears most Americans have are:
1) Government corruption 2) Terrorist attacks within the United States 3) Financial insecurity 4) Being a victim of a terrorist attack 5) Gun control 6) Death of a loved one 7) Economic or financial collapse 8) Identity theft 9) Illness striking a love one 10)The Affordable Health Care Act/"Obamacare"
The list may come as a surprise to anyone who tends to think of public speaking or a fear of flying as the most common anxieties most people experience. But this is the second year in a row that fear of government corruption tops the list. That, says Bader, may have more to do with people wanting to bond over fears, than the fears, themselves.
"Psychologists and social scientists have long known of the value or desire for enemies," Bader explains. "When a group can point to a shared enemy that brings the group together."
"The more fragmented and disconnected a society becomes, the more valuable a common/shared enemy becomes," he added.
Americans can be so conspiracy-minded, in fact, that the researchers even made one up, the "North Dakota Crash," to see how respondents would react.
"The goal was to find out if Americans are 'reflexively' conspiratorial," Bader says. "There is no 'North Dakota Crash' (at least until we included it on this survey), yet a third of Americans believe the government is concealing information about it."
An increase in terror attacks both domestically and abroad has raised Americans' anxiety levels about the possibility of future terrorism when compared with the survey results last year, in which economic concerns ranked more highly.
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More than 60 percent of Americans believe an attack on the scale of 9/11 will occur within the near future. Because of a fear of terrorism, half of Americans fear traveling abroad, and one-fifth claim that they are less likely to attend large public events, like a concert or football game.
The degree to which Americans express a certain level of anxiety in relation to a particular fear depends on who they are and where they're from. Take Islamophobia, for example. Men are more likely to be anti-Muslim than women. City dwellers were also less likely to express distrust of Muslims though those who lived outside urban areas.
Personal fears, as opposed to political, economic, environmental or social anxieties, generally ranked toward the bottom of the list of fears. Out of the 79 possible fears listed in the survey, "Reptiles" was the highest-ranking personal fear, just below biological warfare.
"Fears that show up higher in the list are those that tend to have long-term and wide-ranging consequences on ones life," Bader explains. "Put another way, it is rather easy to avoid clowns if they scare you.
"But you have little control over whether a terrorist attack hits the country, and that can have an effect on the economy, your life and loved ones, your travels, your liberties and so on for years to come."
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