Often when we have a phobia it can’t specifically be traced to a specific event. Unless you got stuck somewhere small as a child you might not have a good reason to be claustrophobic, but try using that logic when you get in a stuffy elevator and start to feel the panic rising. Well some research has pointed to the idea that phobias may actually be memories from out ancestors that have been passed down through our actual DNA.
As far-fetched as it sounds, it makes a lot of sense. In the same way that our genes that affect our physical appearance alter over time to make changes that support us, it might occur in our emotional state as well. An example of this is how different skin colors in different areas may provide different defenses against the climate they were originally found in. Reason then would follow that if your great grandfather almost died of a bee sting, he might want you to weary of the insect as well.
The study that has tested this concept looked to mice for some answers. They found that when a group of mice were exposed to the smell of a cherry blossom while they were given an electric shock would quickly learn to associate the smell as a dangerous one. When those mice were breed and had babies, the younger generation of mice grew up to be just as scared of the scent of cherry blossoms despite never having been exposed to the smell before or to the electric shocks while they were smelling them. Interestingly, the next generation of mice responded the same way, so it appears that the phobia can get passed down as long as it exists in the mice’s bodies.
Since the mice aren’t physically speaking to their children to warn them of the cherry blossom dangers, the idea behind this is that something actually changes in their DNA that serves as a tool to pass on the fear. If they feel a strong enough sense of danger from something their body wants to pass it on.
In humans, this means that not only general phobias may be influenced by the DNA that you were given, but that anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder could be influenced by it as well. If you feel like you inherited your father’s case of anxiety, you literally could have.
Paying attention to this sort of study could begin to change the way we approach things like fears and anxieties. Sometimes trying to get to the emotional root of the cause (as in therapy) might not be helpful since there might not actually be a real cause from your life. If we can figure out where an inherited phobia comes from, maybe we can learn to release the fears that don’t belong to us.