Corruption, Terrorism, and ... Reptiles? Survey Details America’s Biggest Fears


More people are afraid of reptiles, insects, and robots than they are of dying or being murdered. (GIF: Scream Queens | Giphy)

Having fears is a normal part of life, but a new survey has some surprising insights into just what we’re afraid of.

Among other issues, we’re worried about bioterrorism, global warming, and…zombies?

That’s the finding from a new survey from Chapman University of more than 1,500 people from across the U.S. that looked into the fears of the average American.

For the survey, participants were asked to rate their level of fear on a scale of “not afraid” to “very afraid.” The top 10 list of fears (which people identified as making them feel “afraid” or “very afraid”) wasn’t overly shocking:

  1. Corruption of government officials (58 percent)

  2. Cyber-terrorism (44.8 percent)

  3. Corporate tracking of personal information (44.6 percent)

  4. Terrorist attacks (44.4 percent)

  5. Government tracking of personal information (41.4 percent)

  6. Bio-warfare (40.9 percent)

  7. Identity theft (39.6 percent)

  8. Economic collapse (39.2 percent)

  9. Running out of money in the future (37.4 percent)

  10. Credit card fraud (36.9 percent)

But there were several fears that made the list that were surprising:

  • Reptiles (33 percent)

  • Insects (25.5 percent)

  • Robots (23.9 percent)

  • Ghosts (9.7 percent)

  • Zombies (8.5 percent)

  • Clowns (6.8 percent)

Worth noting: More people are afraid of reptiles, insects, and robots than they are of dying (21.9 percent) or being murdered (16 percent).

What’s going on here?

Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, tells Yahoo Health that she’s not shocked by the findings. Fears of insects and reptiles “are thought to be survival-related and likely relics of our successful ancestor’s vigilance and survival of such predators,” she explains. “Some current genetic research suggests that fears and phobias are not just learned at impressionable ages, but can indeed be inherited.”

Clark also points out that we don’t like and are even afraid of things that are unpredictable, confusing, and beyond our control like reptiles, insects, and robots.

Related: Meet the Woman Who Feels No Fear

But…zombies and ghosts? She says it might signal our ongoing discomfort with the experience of death and the uncertainty that surrounds it: “What we don’t understand will always cause dissonance that, in turn, can scare us.”

Clark says these fears may be traced back to early experiences for some people that were scary but are difficult to remember because they happened at an early age. While adults can recognize that clowns and zombies are a person in character, children can be terrified in their presence and can’t understand that it’s a person in costume or character on TV.

“Even if these initial early fear reactions aren’t remembered, they are sill stored in our memory and can fuel fears that can stick for life,” Clark says.

While some of these fears may seem funny, Ann Gordon, PhD, associate dean of the Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Chapman University, who worked on the survey, tells Yahoo Health that they’re very real to the people who experience them.

“It would be a mistake to stigmatize specific fears and phobias,” she says.

So, maybe take a pass on dressing up as a reptile-robot-ghost-zombie-clown this Halloween.

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