A recent YouGov poll asked Americans to tell us what they fear from a list of over 30 possibilities. The most common fear – one shared by nearly one in three U.S. adult citizens – is of snakes. Among the other things polled that sparked fear in the most Americans are heights, spiders, public speaking, disease, and crowded spaces. Among the things least likely to be feared were open spaces, feet, dirt, cats, bright lights, and animals. When asked in an open-ended question about other fears not listed, some mentioned rodents, sharks, bridges, guns, and death.
In addition to asking what Americans fear, we also asked how much they fear each type of fear they selected. Snakes topped this list as well: The people who fear snakes usually fear them a lot, and no source of fear is feared a great deal by a greater percentage of people who fear it. Some fears that are less common are nonetheless feared a great deal by people who selected them. For example, while few people report a fear of flying, most people who do also say they fear it a great deal. Similarly, about half of people who fear fire fear it a great deal; the same goes for large bodies of water.
Many people have fears, but are those fears rational? Americans are divided in this respect. Few (9%) view their fears as fully irrational, though 21% view them as somewhat irrational. About one in four (26%) are confident their fears are rational, while 34% say they’re somewhat rational.
People who say their fears are irrational are most likely to say their fears interfere with their daily life: Around one in three (34%) say this. Overall, however, only one in four (25%) people who report having fears say that these fears interfere with their day-to-day living, while 70% say they do not.
Do Americans have support when it comes to the things they fear most? Two in five people with fears (61%) say they’ve discussed their fears with a partner, friend, or family member. About one in four (23%) have discussed them with a therapist or other mental-health professional.
Among people who say their fears interfere with their daily life, half have discussed their fears with a professional counselor of some sort. Women are somewhat more likely than men to say they’ve discussed their fears with friends or family, but slightly less likely than men to say they’ve discussed them with a mental-health professional.
Women are more likely than men to say they fear most of the things asked about, especially the creepy-crawly. The largest gender gap is in regard to snakes: Women are 20 percentage points more likely than men to fear them. Women are also far more likely than men to fear spiders and other insects, as well as crowded spaces.
In terms of other differences between demographic groups, we find that people living in rural areas are more likely than people in other areas to report having “no fears.” Americans residing in the midwest are also more likely to report a lack of fear relative to people residing in other regions of the country.
In regard to age, people who are 45 and older are more likely to report a fear of heights compared to adults under 45. On political party, there is only one notable difference: fear of disease. In what is perhaps a reflection of the politicization of COVID-19, Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to say they fear disease.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.
This poll was conducted on June 8 - 13, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: David Clode on Unsplash