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By Sarah, 17 January 2014 News

Written by Neha Karl

Are you scared of spiders or heights? According to recent research, someone in your family could be the reason for your phobia.

a large black spider with an orange back.

The reason we fear spiders could relate back to our parents! Image: Wikimedia Commons/Sandilya Theuerkauf/CC-BY-2.5.

We have long thought that a phobia or fear is caused by a mix of personal experiences and the environment we live in. This idea was challenged recently in research which found that fears could be inherited. Chemical changes in our DNA could make it possible for emotional reactions to be passed on from our parents and grandparents. This means that our fears could be a result of our ancestors’ experiences.

Researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, designed experiments to test this theory in mice. The mice were trained in the laboratory to fear the smell of cherry blossom. The mice were then bred, and the offspring studied. The young showed signs of fear immediately after their exposure to the smell of cherry blossom, even though they had not been trained to do so. But when the offspring were exposed to unscented cherry blossom, they showed no sign of fear. The experiment showed that the parent mice passed on the fear of the scent of cherry blossom to their offspring.

Fears may be present in an individual before they are even born, and inherited due to trauma experienced by their ancestors. While it’s still early days, these findings could help us understand how information is stored in the brain and passed on in the genome. So if you are afraid of heights or think spiders are scary, but don’t know why, maybe your grandparents could explain!

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