A recent survey asked 1,500 Americans what they fear most. The answers may surprise you.

The nationwide survey was conducted by researchers at Chapman University, the results of which can be found here. It's considered the first comprehensive nationwide study of what strikes fear in Americans, and it's the first of what is planned to be a yearly study.

Here are the top five things Americans fear the most:

  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

Yes, walking alone at night is the #1 fear — this despite the fact that crime has been steadily decreasing in the United States for decades, and the extremely low likelihood that something bad will happen while walking at night. Contrast that with the leading causes of death and accidents or unintentional injuries (I realize that deaths and accidents should not necessarily be related to fears, but I thought I'd throw it in here to show what actually kills and physically hurts us).

"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," noted Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the research and analysis. "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."

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But clearly Americans don't feel the U.S. is becoming a safer place, despite the evidence.

Another question asked Americans what they're concerned about, the top five being:

  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

The research team pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, crime, natural disasters (the top five being tornado/hurricane, earthquakes, floods, pandemic or major epidemic, and power outages), and fear factors. Interestingly, consistent predictors of fear include a lower level of education and high frequency of television viewing.

Much more at The Chapman Survey.