» The Division on the Study of American Fears

The annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears provides an in-depth examination into the concerns of average Americans, tracking changes and trends over the years. The survey asks about topics ranging from government, health and environmental matters, to disaster preparedness, the paranormal and personal anxieties.

Fear Itself

The Causes and Consequences of Fear in America

By Christopher D. Bader, Joseph O. Baker, L.Edward Day and Ann Gordon 

Fear Itself Book CoverForeward by Earl Babbie
Published by: NYU Press

An antidote to the culture of fear that dominates modern life

From moral panics about immigration and gun control to anxiety about terrorism and natural disasters, Americans live in a culture of fear. While fear is typically discussed in emotional or poetic terms—as the opposite of courage, or as an obstacle to be overcome—it nevertheless has very real consequences in everyday life. Persistent fear negatively effects individuals’ decision-making abilities and causes anxiety, depression, and poor physical health. Further, fear harms communities and society by corroding social trust and civic engagement. Yet politicians often effectively leverage fears to garner votes and companies routinely market unnecessary products that promise protection from imagined or exaggerated harms.

Drawing on five years of data from the Chapman Survey of American Fears—which canvasses a random, national sample of adults about a broad range of fears—Fear Itself offers new insights into what people are afraid of and how fear affects their lives. The authors also draw on participant observation with Doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists to provide fascinating narratives about subcultures of fear.

Fear Itself is a novel, wide-ranging study of the social consequences of fear, ultimately suggesting that there is good reason to be afraid of fear itself.

Praise for Fear Itself:

"Those of us who study fear have long been grateful for the Chapman University Survey of American Fears. In this important book, the scholars behind that survey examine their data and provide invaluable insights into what Americans fear and the effects of those fears."

Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

"A careful, well-reasoned, and convincing study of fear in contemporary American society."
Steve Pfaff, University of Washington

American’s Top Fears 2020-21

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 7 (2020/2021) allows us to examine and better understand the fears of average Americans. In January of 2021, a random sample of 1,035 adults across the United States was asked about ninety-five different fears ranging from topics about the environment, government, natural disasters, COVID-19, and many more.

Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy in American 2020-2021

As the Coronavirus spread across world, the search for a vaccine began alongside it. As early as mid-March of 2020, scientists began Phase 1 trials of an experimental vaccine for COVID-19. In the United States, the vaccine became available for some as early as January of 2020, with more groups becoming eligible for the vaccine as time went on.

Fear of COVID-19 in America 2020-20201

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health of millions across the globe and uprooted ordinary life for everyone. At this point in the United States, a majority people know someone who has or has had the coronavirus. According to the 2020/2021 Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF), 79.2% of respondents know someone personally who has had COVID-19, while 7.9% of all respondents reported they themselves have had COVID-19.

Fear of Civil Unrest 2020-2021

Fear of widespread civil unrest has generally increased since it was first researched in the Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF) in 2015. In the 2018 survey, it ranked only as the 24th fear and then moved up to the 20th spot in the 2019 survey. However, for the first time fear of widespread civil unrest landed in the top 5 fears of Americans.

America's Top Fears 2019

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 6 (2019) provides an in-depth examination into the fears of average Americans. In July of 2019, a random sample of 1,219 adults from across the United States were asked their level of fear about eighty-eight different phenomena including crime, the government, the environment, disasters, personal anxieties, technology, and many others.

Fear and the 2020 Election

Results from the 2019 Chapman University Survey of American Fears (CSAF) reveal that 47.5% of Americans are ‘afraid or very afraid’ of the outcome of the 2020 election. This fear is the 21st highest fear that Americans have ranking just above random/mass shootings and biological warfare for the 2019 survey.

Fleeing Death: Disaster Evacuations in America

From devastating wildfires to killer hurricanes, nearly a quarter (21%) of America reports they or their families have had to flee their homes due to disaster. Evacuating one’s home is a heart wrenching choice, but it saves lives. Unfortunately, many Americans choose not to evacuate, even when authorities call for mandatory evacuations. The results are often tragic. 

Paranormal America 2018

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018) includes a battery of items on paranormal beliefs ranging from belief in aliens and psychic powers to Bigfoot and haunted houses.

Fear of Immigration

Immigration policy has been a central focus of President Trump’s administration. Results from the Chapman University Survey of American Fears show that a majority of Americans do not currently share the President’s concerns over immigration.

Fear of Muslims in American Society

Roughly 1% of the U.S. adult population are Muslims. The political and social scrutiny focused on this small group has led to major political figures advocating discriminatory practices based on religion alone. This year, we’ve reexamined many of the same items from our 2016 survey to see if American opinions had changed. They have.


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