Thursday, February 25, 2010

Innate Phobias: Fear Inheritance From Mother To Offspring


I find this article, Fear of Spiders Can Develop Before Birth, quite interesting. It seems that newborn crickets "inherit" the fear of spiders from their mother. Compared to newborn crickets whose mothers were not exposed to spiders, those whose mothers were exposed to spiders almost always try to seek shelter to avoid detection from the spiders (which also leads to a higher survival rate). The paper for this study is here (free abstract), Mothers Forewarn Offspring about Predators: A Transgenerational Maternal Effect on Behavior.

In humans, the fear of spiders (arachnophobia) and snakes (ophidiophobia) is widespread. It might also be innate, a survival mechanism we inherited from our primate ancestors. Anthropologist Lynne Isbell thinks that our relatively good vision evolved for spotting snakes, one of early primates' predators. Lynne has a book, The Fruit, The Tree, and The Serpent: Why We See So Well, that talks about our vision and fear. Another interesting article is Unlocking The Psychology Of Snake And Spider Phobias. The fear of snakes and spiders might seem unfounded in today's society but it is without a doubt a useful mechanism for our ancestors who live in wild. Do we inherit these fears from our mother like crickets do? Are phobias wired in our genes and can be passed down from parents to offspring?

Not all phobias are innate. Certain phobias, like mine, developed from inexperience parental care (and I still blame my parents for it). When I was a child, my parents made up stories of killer swines roaming the streets for their laziness to bring me to the playground. So, I grew up being afraid of pigs (everything and anything about pigs) and eventually succumbed to swinophobia.

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