New Chapman University Scientific Study Identifies Top Five Fears for Americans

While Americans Fear Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Epidemics, 75% Don't Have an Emergency Kit

ORANGE, Calif., Oct. 21, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --

Chapman University has initiated the most comprehensive nationwide study to date on what strikes fear in Americans. According to the Chapman poll, the number one fear in America is walking alone at night.

The Chapman Survey on American Fears included more than 1,500 participants from across the nation and all walks of life. This is the first wave in what is a planned annual study. Underscoring Chapman's growth and emergence in the sciences, the research team leading this effort pared the information down into four basic categories: personal fears, natural disasters, crime and fear factors.

The survey shows that the top five personal fears for Americans are:

  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

"The Chapman Survey on American Fears helps us build a better understanding of the long-term culture of fear in our society," said Dr. Christopher Bader, Chapman University professor of sociology, who led the team effort. "We are also seeing how fear affects behaviors, but this is rarely in a predictable manner."

Fear of Natural Disaster and Aftermath – Little Action to Prepare

The study looked specifically into the area of natural and man-made disasters and people's preparedness. The findings showed that despite widespread fear, the vast majority of those surveyed do not have emergency kits with food, water, clothing and medical supplies. The lack of preparedness is prevalent even in regions hardest hit by natural disasters. In the Northeast, where there have been a number of blackouts in recent years lasting more than a week, approximately 20 percent have an emergency kit. In the West, where half of the respondents indicated they are "very worried" that an earthquake will happen in the next 25 years, only slightly more than a third are prepared: nationwide, only one in four survey respondents said they have an emergency kit.

The top five most feared natural disasters by Americans are:

  1. Tornados/hurricanes
  2. Earthquakes
  3. Floods
  4. Pandemic or Major Epidemic
  5. Power Outage (lasting more than a week)

The Chapman Survey on American Fears was conducted in April 2014. At that time, one-third of the participants feared a major epidemic in this country. Also, a greater number of women than men said they feared a pandemic.

Women are no more likely than men to report having an emergency supplies kit. However, women are more likely to worry about having to evacuate their homes ahead of a natural disaster.

"Our research findings show that Americans are aware of natural disasters, but better communication strategies are needed to encourage the nearly 75 percent who are unprepared for catastrophe," said Dr. Ann Gordon, who led this portion of the survey and is associate dean of Chapman University's Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "Whether it's corporate partnerships or initiatives with government agencies or non-profits, we need to find a way to bridge the gap between paralysis and taking action when it comes to natural disasters."

Dr. Gordon's work includes maps of America that break down the fears of natural disasters by region, which can be seen by clicking

Crime has decreased, but Americans still don't feel safe

In the crime section of the Chapman Survey on American Fears, the research team discovered surprising findings.

The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked participants how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In most cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.

"One of the greatest public policy successes of the last two decades is the drop in crime, yet the findings show that survey respondents still don't believe that the United States is a safer place," said Dr. Edward Day, who led this portion of the research and analysis. Day is a criminologist and director of Chapman University's Earl Babbie Research Center. "The fear of crime affects our quality of life – for example, if we are afraid to go out at night then we make decisions based on that fear instead of on fact – which is that crime has gone down."

Additional information of the top crime-related fears can be found

Fear Factors

Through a rigorous series of analyses, two key factors emerged as being the most consistent predictors of fear: having a lower level of education (having only a high school diploma/GED or less) also high frequency of television talk show and true crime viewing.

"It is a simple, straight-line effect - the more one watches talk and/or true crime TV, the more fearful one tends to be. Given the nature of our survey we cannot say with certainty whether people turn to TV because they are afraid or whether people have become afraid from watching TV, but the association is clear and powerful," added Bader.

A comprehensive list of the top fears from The Chapman Survey on American Fears can be found


Wave I of The Chapman Survey of American Fears was conducted in Spring 2014 with the analysis performed over the summer. To track trends over time, the researchers at Chapman University plan to make this an annual study with the new data released each year in the fall. The surveys will include core demographic items. However the survey's primary focus is asking questions to determine the extent to which Americans fear or worry about life events, governmental policy, crime and victimization, natural and man-made disasters, and a host of other phenomena. While demographic items and questions about fears and worries constitute the stable core of the survey's content, each wave will also include topical modules that will rotate onto and off of the survey in subsequent years based on research interests.

The data were collected by GFK (Knowledge Networks) ( a consumer research company with expertise in probability samples. Selected households were invited to participate in a Web-based panel study. Potential respondents who agreed to participate, but lacked the necessary equipment or internet connection were provided a laptop computer and/or internet service connection by GFK.

Chapman University

Consistently ranked among the top universities in the West, Chapman University provides a uniquely personalized and interdisciplinary educational experience to highly qualified students. Our programs encourage innovation, creativity and collaboration, and focus on developing global citizen-leaders who are distinctively prepared to improve their community and their world. The Earl Babbie Research Center is dedicated to empowering students and faculty to apply a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative social research methods to conduct studies that address critical social, behavioral, economic and environmental problems. At the Ideation Lab, students work with faculty to develop data and creative visualization material, infographics, video, photography and design material for university research studies. Visit

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