IF YOU WERE TO ASK the media what we, as a nation, are most afraid of at the moment, you would think that the answer would probably be an Ebola outbreak in the United States, or maybe a terrorist attack at the hands of ISIS. Well, you, my friend, would be wrong: a recent U.S. poll determined that being the victim of a mass or random shooting was number four on the list, but the other top four most pressing fears in their list of five were (in order): walking alone at night, identity theft, Internet safety, and public speaking.
The survey found that people who were particularly fearful of one category were more likely to be more fearful of another, so not all of us are walking around crippled with debilitating fears of having to deliver a speech in front of a crowd of people, luckily. The people who were the most fearful reportedly have the lowest education levels of the survey participants and watch more of those true-crime shows and talk shows. (Talk shows can be pretty scary.) Perhaps a little less critical thinking going down, but more on that later.
Those surveyed were also asked which natural disasters were mostly to keep them up at night, with tornadoes and hurricanes coming in as the top contenders, followed by earthquakes and floods. The fear levels were not so high, however, that the people reporting the fears had taken any precautions against the potential disasters, in the off chance that they might actually occur. Another textbook example of worrying without taking action, probably just for the sake of worrying.
Luckily, a little bit of fear is fine in our lives, when it keeps us from eating poisoning fruits we’ve never seen before or from jumping off bridges at whim, but keep in mind that what you expose yourself to on TV and other forms of media can distort the realities of risk. Scientists call this distortion of reality the availability heuristic, a psychological phenomenon in which we sort through information that’s readily available to us as opposed to the actual reality, or assume a higher danger of something just because people are talking about it all the time. Enter Ebola mania!
The survey, which came from Chapman University, proved so illuminating to researchers (and probably fun to conduct — especially this close to Halloween) that they’re going to bring it back yearly and see what changes in our country’s opinions about the stuff that keeps us up at night as time goes on.
In the meantime, try not to stress. If you must stress, at least try and take a precautionary step do something rational to help you combat what you’re afraid of. Set up a fraud alert on your important accounts, start stocking up some supplies in case of natural disasters, and practice public speaking to your cats. You know, rational things.