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Things Americans fear most

Anna Bizon

Fear is a natural and often necessary emotional response to physical and emotional danger that is vital to our existence. If we didn't feel fear, we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from harmful threats.

So what are Americans afraid of? The second annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears seeks to answer that question and reveals some interesting trends about what people in the U.S. find most threatening.

A random sample of more than 1,5000 adults from across the country answered questions about 88 fears covering a broad spectrum of categories, including fears of the government, crime, disasters, the environment, the future, technology, sickness and aging. The researchers also included questions about personal anxieties, such as claustrophobia, clowns and public speaking.

Click through to find out the things Americans fear most in 2015.

1. Government corruption

Win McNamee, Getty Images

The top fear Americans reported in the 2015 survey is the corruption of government officials. In fact, 58 percent of respondents reported being "afraid" or "very afraid" of a corrupt government.

The researchers also asked participants if they had engaged in particular actions because of their fears. They found that nearly a fourth of Americans reported having voted for a particular candidate because of their fears and more than 10 percent have purchased a gun due to fear.

"Fear of the government had the strongest relationship with buying a gun because of fear," L. Edward Day, lead researcher on this portion of the survey, said in a statement.

2. Cyber-terrorism

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Cyber-terrorism -- the use of computers and information technology to create widespread disruption -- came in second on the list of things Americans fear the most in 2015. Nearly 45 percent of respondents reported being afraid or very afraid of cyber-terrorism, putting it ahead of physical terrorist attacks on the list of top fears.

3. Corporate tracking of personal data

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Many Americans fear their personal information will be tracked by corporations. "The 2015 survey data shows us the top fears are heavily based in economic and 'big brother' type issues." Christopher Bader, who led the team effort, said in a statement. "People often fear what they cannot control."

4. Terrorist attacks

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Forty-four percent of Americans reported being afraid or very afraid of terrorist attacks. The survey also revealed that most people in the U.S. have unrealistic expectations of what would happen if a major disaster -- man-made or natural -- were to occur.

"We found a major disconnect between people's expectations of what would happen in a disaster and the reality of a disaster's aftermath," said Ann Gordon, Ph.D., and lead researcher on the disaster portion of the survey. "The number one excuse given by Americans for not having an emergency kit is that they expect first responders to come to their aid immediately -- this is an unrealistic belief in the wake of a natural disaster."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross suggest that people have enough food, water, prescription medication and other supplies on hand to last at least 72 hours following a disaster, as local officials may not be able to reach everyone immediately.

5. Government tracking of personal data

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The government tracking personal information rounded out the top five of Americans' biggest fears of 2015. Forty-one percent of respondents reported being "afraid" or "very afraid" of the government knowing their every move.

In response to mistrust of the government, many respondents reported not only buying guns but also sending their children to private school. The researchers found that among those who reported above average fears of the government, about 8 percent have sent their kids to private school because of their fears.

6. Bio-warfare

Ljupco Smokovski

Another man-made disaster in the top 10, bio-warfare -- the use of biological toxins or infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate -- is a threat many Americans fear. In fact, nearly 41 percent of respondents said they were afraid or very afraid of this type of terrorism.

7. Identity theft

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The first of two fears in the crime category, identity theft is a big concern among Americans, as almost 40 percent of those in the survey considered it a major fear.

Earlier this year, the federal government set up a website, identitytheft.gov, which provides a step-by-step plan for combating identity theft.

8. Economic collapse

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Over 39 percent of Americans fear an economic collapse.

The researchers say this is another example of people being afraid of what they cannot control. "Technology and the future of our economy are two aspects of life that Americans find very unpredictable at the moment," Bader said.

9. Running out of money in the future

People protest outside of the New York Stock Exchange October 13, 2008 in New York City. Getty Images, Spencer Platt

Running out of money was the only personal future fear that made the top 10. Just over 37 percent of respondents considered it a major concern.

10. Credit card fraud

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Rounding out the top 10 of America's biggest fears for 2015 is credit card fraud. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported being afraid of very afraid of this threat.

To protect yourself from credit card fraud, experts recommend monitoring payment cards and bank accounts regularly for unusual activity, limiting your disclosure of personal information on social media sites and avoiding clicking on links in suspicious emails.

For a full list of what Americans are afraid of in 2015, visit Chapman University's website.

What else are we afraid of?

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The next 10 fears on the list run the gamut from more government in the form of gun control and Obamacare, to illness and pandemics, nuclear attack, and tornadoes:
  • Gun Control
  • War
  • Obamacare
  • Illness
  • Pandemic
  • Nuclear Attack
  • Reptiles
  • Meltdown
  • Civil Unrest
  • Tornado

Public speaking, commonly considered one of the things people fear most, ranked #26 in the survey, and fear of heights was #28. People were more likely to be afraid of insects (#35) than flying (#61), and more afraid of ghosts (#77) than zombies (#82). You can see the full list on the university's website, www.chapman.edu.

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