Also, where do heights, rats, small spaces, seeing blood, and meeting new people rank?
Earlier this year Richard W. Seim and C. Richard Spates of Western Michigan University reported the results of a survey in an article on The Prevalence and Comorbidity of Specific Phobias in College Students and Their Interest in Receiving Treatment. Their article appeared in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Volume 24, No. 1, on pages 49 to 58. You can read the abstract here.
They asked 813 college students (42 % men and 58 % women) to rate their degree of fear for a dozen situations on a scale from 0 to 4 where: 0 = no fear, 1 = mild fear, 2 = moderate fear, 3 = significant fear, and 4 = severe fear. The percent of students with significant, severe, and either significant or severe fears are shown on the following three bar charts. (Point to and click on any one to see a larger, clearer version).
Spiders are the biggest fear, followed by public speaking, snakes, heights, and rats. Back in 2001 a Gallup Poll of the US found that people were more scared of snakes than public speaking.
Seim and Spates also asked the students to write in other fears they were bothered by, and 19% added one or more. The most common five were:
1.5% - Fear of clowns
1.4% - Fear of the dark
1.2% - Fear of failing school
0.7% - Fear of being sexually assaulted
0.5% - Fears related to vomiting
Apparently no one wrote in that they were bothered by a fear of death, so that old Jerry Seinfeld (and 1977 Book of Lists) cliche is finally disappearing from campus.
For once a nursery rhyme was right. Forget worrying about globalization. Instead worry about tuffetization,. Students have the same old fear as Little Miss Muffet: that a spider will come along, sit down beside you, and frighten you away.