Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Snakes came first in a 1988 Roper survey of what American adults were afraid of or bothered by

In the past month I’ve been looking around for more surveys about what people fear. In a May 29, 1989 New York Times article about how Meek and Mumblers Learn Ways of Getting a Word In Alison Leigh Cowan mentioned that:

“A national survey by The Roper Organization in 1988 showed 26 percent of adult Americans said they feared public speaking, second on the list of fears presented only to the 41 percent who admitted a fear of snakes. Add the 35 percent who said they were slightly bothered by public speaking and well over half the population would probably need encouragement to take the podium. The poll, which included 1,982 interviews, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.”

Further Google search led me to an Acrobat .pdf file of a long paper by R. A. Mittermeier, J. L. Carr, I. R. Swingland, T. B. Werner, and R. B. Mast, titled Conservation of amphibians and Reptiles, in K. Adler (ed.) Herpetology - Current Research on the Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles (Proceedings of the First World Congress of Herpetology), Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Oxford Ohio, 1992, pages 59 to 80. Table 3 lists results from Roper Reports 88-3, which was titled Phobias: snakes mice, spiders - and public speaking.

A bar chart shows the rankings for what people were afraid of or bothered by. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Snakes were first at 65%, followed by public speaking at 61%, heights at 45%, mice at 37%, and spiders and insects at 36%. There also had been a 1977 survey that didn’t ask about public speaking with snakes at 69%, heights at 45%, mice at 36%, and spiders and insects at 37%. This  1988 survey had different rankings than a 1996 Roper survey, in which fear of public speaking came first.

I’ve seen caution or warning signs about snakes being present in an area. But, I’d never seen one like the public speaking sign shown above - which I made up starting from a blank Danger Sign.

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