Can fear be inherited?

Plenty of traits are passed down from one generation to the next. Eye color, hair color, height, body type- but did you know that offspring can also inherit a parent’s trauma?

Studies in the past have shown that women who have experienced trauma tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Children of these women also had lower cortisol levels. And it might be expected that if a mother has experienced trauma and is stressed, her kids would be stressed due to her own behavior.

But a new study shows that nature AND nurture both play a role in this- that traumatic experiences can be transferred to the offspring through sex cells! Male mice were trained to fear a particular odor. During the process, this learning changed neuronal organization in the mouse’s nose. Then, IVF was performed with sperm from these males. Both the first and second generation offspring had similar neuronal organization in their noses, and they feared the same odor that their fathers did!

This shows that information stored in the brain is somehow transferred to sperm cells. Researchers don’t know how yet… but they’re working on it!