There are a lot of things to be afraid of, whether it’s spiders, flying, or public speaking. Fear is a very primitive instinct, and it has kept plenty of people alive over the past thousand years. But if you were to ask people from each century going back to the beginning of time, their answers to the question, “What are you afraid of?” would be wildly different from one another. Early man was probably afraid of the dark and predators. Colonial Americans were probably afraid of war and British rule. Chapman University’s 2015 Survey on American Fears aimed to find out what Americans in the 21st century are afraid of.

The survey looked into the topmost fears and anxieties that affect the average American using data collected from 1,541 Americans scattered about the country. The participants were asked to rate their level of fear on a scale of 1 (not very afraid) to 4 (very afraid) over 10 major domains of fear that the survey targeted: crime, daily life, government, technology, judgment of others, man-made disasters, natural disasters, personal anxieties, and personal future. The domain that Americans were most afraid of were man-made disasters, like terrorist attacks, with technology — the fear of tracing of personal data and of government — coming in second. The government itself came in third.

Domains of Fear
The overall categories of fear featured in the survey. Courtesy of Chapman University

Within these domains, there were 88 subcategories that further expanded on each domain. Americans stated how afraid they were of each of those subcategories, which included things like credit card fraud and running out of money in the future.

"People often fear what they cannot control," lead author Dr. Christopher Bader said, "and technology and the future of our economy are two aspects of life that Americans find very unpredictable at the moment."

When it came down to the single thing that Americans were most afraid of, 58 percent stated they were afraid of corruption within the government. Cyber-terrorism and tracking of personal data were second and third, with roughly 44 percent of Americans saying they were afraid of those aspects of technology.

Top 10 fears
The top 10 specific fears of Americans in 2015. Courtesy of Chapman University

The survey also asked people how they would respond to their biggest overall fear: man-made disaster. When it came to preparedness, most Americans stated that they felt emergency services would be able to help them, or that they didn’t have enough time, didn’t want to think about it or just weren’t aware of what they were supposed to do if something like that occurred.

As interesting as the results are, they show that some Americans are afraid of slightly ridiculous things, like zombies. The undead garnered 8.5 percent of fear in the personal anxieties category.