The epigenetics of fear

Do we inherit fear? A recent study in Nature Neuroscience concludes that it is quite possible.

Researchers taught male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by associating the scent with mild foot shocks. Two weeks later they bred with females. The resulting pups were raised to adulthood having never been exposed to the smell. When they caught a whiff of it for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful. They were even born with more cherry-blossom detecting neurons in their noses and more brain space devoted to cherry blossom smelling.

The second and third generations appeared to have not a fear of the scent itself, but a heightened sensitivity to it. The findings bring to light an often-missed subtlety of epigenetic inheritance – that the next generation doesn’t always show exactly the same trait that their parents developed.

It is not that fear is being passed down the generations – it is that fear in one generation can lead to heightened sensitivity in the next.

I find this research absolutely fascinating and it’s also linked to a very effective technique I use from NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) called Timeline Therapy to disconnect emotions from past events.

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