The Geography of Fear

62 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2011 Last revised: 6 Jul 2023

See all articles by Daniel Treisman

Daniel Treisman

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: February 2011


Whether the danger invoked is nuclear war or genetically modified foods, far more people in some countries than in others say they are afraid. Using data from six surveys, I show that the levels of reported fear of different dangers correlate strongly across both individuals and countries. I construct indexes of fearfulness for 15-25 countries and map the prevalence of fear in Western Europe. About two thirds of the crossnational variation within Europe can be explained by differences in pessimism--the degree to which respondents exaggerate the likelihood of disasters. Among the countries for which I have data, the most robust correlates of fearfulness relate to countries' religious traditions. Fear tends to be higher in countries where more people believe in Hell and where fewer believe in Heaven.

Suggested Citation

Treisman, Daniel, The Geography of Fear (February 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w16838, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Treisman (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science ( email )

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