Research conducted for a new study suggests fear may actually be passed down through the generations.
It is commonly believed that early experiences or childhood memories are the primary triggers for common phobias, but new research by boffins at Emory University could change all that.
They trained mice to be scared of a cherry blossom-like smell and then tests on their offspring confirmed that they too exhibited a more fearful response despite never encountering the odour before.
Even when the mice were generated artificially through IVF they still showed signs of a phobia, suggesting the behaviour was inherited and handed down rather than taught.
“The fact that these changes persisted after IVF, cross-fostering and across two generations is indicative of biological inheritance,” said Dr Brian Dias and Dr Kerry Ressler in the study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
“The second generation mice that we tested are a full and complete generation removed from the environmental perturbation of their parent; as such, our observations suggest a transgenerational phenomenon,” they continued.
“Our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.”
As well as being a potentially eye-opening insight into human phobias it is believed the research could help provide a platform for even more important work.
Experts suggest that these findings could translate to help scientists further understand mental health issues such post traumatic stress disorder, and help treat it.