Research & Insights

By Brian Reavey, October 31, 2014

A Global Perspective on Fear

Today is Halloween – a day filled with candy, costume contests, adorable tricker or treaters and one too many cats dressed up as a pumpkin. It’s also a day on which many of us build up the courage to finally confront some of our deepest and darkest fears — ghosts and ghouls, spiders and snakes, sexy nurses and chipendales dancers. The lead into Halloween is often a time when we all seek out and for some perverse reason relish the feeling of being scared. We watch horror movies that plague our dreams. We go to haunted houses to make our nightmares tangible. We even decorate our homes with the very things that comprise our phobias.

Surrounded by the pervasive culture of fear and fright that is Halloween, not suprisingly I tend to get introspective and contemplate the things that jolt me awake in a sweaty panic. Sure, seeing a ghost would certainly ruin a pair of pants, but I tend to focus on things I might actually expect (if not anticipate) encountering during my lifetime. Living in San Francisco in a building deemed to be unsafe in an earthquake by the city’s Department of Building Inspection, I find myself thinking about my building collapsing onto me almost everyday. And at a national level with all the coverage by the major cable news networks and the mandatory quarantines resulting from the Ebola epidemic it is almost certain that the now iconic yellow Hazmat suit will be a popular costume this year.

As a result, I decided to think about the various things that give me the most anxious pause on a day-to-day basis. During this execerise I started to realize that most of my fears had to do with both my specific geography and personal experiences. For one thing, people who live in Paris or Moscow are probably a lot less likely to be concerned about earthquakes than I am living in San Francisco. Wanting to get a better understanding of the diversity of the global perspective on fear, I decided to tap into the opinions of our global network of Contributors. Borrowing some questions from a recent Chapman University study on American fears I put together a brief survey asking Contributors to rate on a 5 point scale the things that scare them most. Questions ranged from “How afraid are you of encountering a pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)” to “How afraid are you of encountering a ghost?” Within 12 hours of launching the survey I received ~3,500 responses from people in 99 different countries.

The results were not all that surprising. Averaging all responses to all questions across all countries produced a global fear rating of 2.63 / 5 — which is to say that on average the world is medium scared. I find that strangely reassuring. Below is a map that breaks down the average of those responses by country (blank countries are those from which we did not receive responses).

average_

Diving deeper into the data to see what exactly is keeping people up at night illuminates that it just so happens people aren’t that concerned by the supernatural terrors or ghastly beasts that typify the Halloween experience. And yes, epidemics and financial collapse are at the top of mind. Below are some of the more interesting results from the survey that definitely demonstrates that fear is born from a relevance to our lives.

Top 5 Fears of Contributors Globally

Not surprising that epidemics, warfare, and financial crisis were at the top of the list. I wasn’t sure if what feels like ebola fear mongering in the United States media was replicated elsewhere, but it seems that those concerns are consistent globally.

  1. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)
  2. Nuclear/Biological Weapons Attack
  3. Economic/Financial Collapse
  4. Sickness due to contaminated or polluted drinking water
  5. Sickness caused by air pollution

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in the United States

It is not surprising that Americans fear another financial collapse most. Over the last 8 years the impact from the economic crisis in the United States with unemployment rates at some of the highest levels in over 50 years has been the thing that has kept most Americans awake at night. And I don’t know to be surprised by the fact that Americans really fear the event of a significant power outage. I guess our ever increasingly connected lives and our resulting addiction to technology has made it all that more terrifying to disconnect.

  1. Economic/Financial Collapse
  2. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)
  3. Terrorist Attack
  4. Nuclear/Biological Weapons Attack
  5. Significant power outage, lasting a week or more

 

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in India

It appears that the arms race / brinksmanship that so famously defines the contentious relationship between India and Pakistan is top of mind among Indian Contributors. This is not surprising. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapon technology and have recently engaged in some of the worst border skrimishes in recent years. It was also interesting to see that basic access to clean water in order to avoid sickness was more of a concern than an epidemic such as ebola.

  1. Nuclear/Biological Weapons Attack
  2. Sickness due to contaminated or polluted drinking water
  3. Terrorist Attack
  4. Sickness caused by air pollution
  5. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)

 

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in Venezuela

In Venezuela we see issues related to crime and violence come to the top. This begs no question for a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

  1. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)
  2. Being murdered
  3. Nuclear/Biological Weapons Attack
  4. Robbery or other home invasion
  5. Sickness due to contaminated or polluted drinking water

 

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in Ukraine

In Ukraine it seems that the unrest with East Ukraine separatists and the constant threat of another Putin land grab has caused the fear of war or military invasion to rise to the top. And although the Chernobyl disaster occured over 28 years ago, instability in the region has caused the threat of another nuclear meltdown to be a very real fear.

 

  1. Being affected by war or military invasion
  2. Economic/Financial Collapse
  3. Nuclear/Biological Weapons Attack
  4. Sickness due to contaminated or polluted drinking water
  5. Nuclear Energy Plant Accident / Meltdown

 

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in Serbia

Although the water has subsided from the May 2014 floods that brought devastation that exceeds the ‘war damage’ from the 1992 – 1995 Balkan conflict, the region is still struggling to recover from its recent disaster. As a result, floods remain a very real fear for people in the region, especially considering its lasting impact on people’s access to clean drinking water. And as ties have been made between the recent flooding and climate change there is no surprise that a disaster resulting from climate change was also in the top 5.

  1. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)
  2. Environmental disaster caused by Climate Change
  3. Devastation caused by flood
  4. Being affected by war or military invasion
  5. Sickness due to contaminated or polluted drinking water

 

Top 5 Fears of Contributors in the United Kingdom

Mirroring the United States with a financial collapse rising to the top, it appears that in the United Kingdom a jobless world is certainly the scariest world.  It also seems that Colin Firth’s Oscar Award winning depiction of King George VI in the King’s Speech really struck a chord with a nation of people who appear to quite often find themselves well…speechless.

  1. Economic/Financial Collapse
  2. Public speaking
  3. Terrorist Attack
  4. Pandemic or a major epidemic (ie: rapidly spreading disease)
  5. Environmental disaster caused by Climate Change