Think that your fear of public speaking is not based on previous experiences? Scientists at Emory University beg to differ. While you might not have experienced any frightening experiences in front of a crowd, your ancestor's experiences speaking in front of people might have translated into phobias in your DNA.
A new study, published in the Journal of Nature Neuroscience, used genetic sequencing of the sex cells of a group of mice that had been conditioned to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. The study found that there was a genetic response to the mice's fear of the smell, one which couldn't even be rid of with the introduction of new sperm in subsequent generations through in vitro fertilization.
Fear is Hereditary
The study exposed mice to the smell of cherry blossoms and shocked them, effectively making them fear the smell. That shouldn't come as a surprise. What is surprising is that the generations after the shocked mice still reacted fearfully to the smell of cherry blossoms, though they were not shocked.
But how does a group of mice that are scared of a perfume scent relate to us? Humans and mice are genetically, biologically, and behaviorally similar to humans. This means that if fear can be transmitted through the genetic material of mice, it is likely able to do the same in humans. If this knowledge is established through observational studies in humans, then new methods of treating phobias could arise, which would involve the parents of the patients with phobias.
How Can One Undo Genetics?
Even when new genetic material was introduced into the group of mice, the phobias were still present in other generations, even with only one parent to transmit the genetic material. In other words, it takes many generations to get rid of a very strong phobia. This means that people with phobias should not wait to treat their fears. Otherwise, their children might inherit the fear genetically and have to go through the same problems their parents did.
This information causes us to take a new perspective on parenting. While parents have known for years that the way you raise a child is not the only factor for it to end up successful, our society puts a lot of emphasis on nurturing a child. What has neglected to be addressed is the factor of nature in all of this. Before even thinking of conceiving a child, potential parents should confront their own fears and insecurities so there is less of likelihood that their child will have the same problems.
Recovering From A Phobia
But how do you go about addressing your phobia? Though having a phobia isn't a choice, seeking help for a phobia is choosing to get rid of it. Depending on the severity of the phobia, treatment can range from self-treatment to seeking professional care.
One of the most popular ways to treat a phobia is through exposure therapy. The idea behind this therapy is that if a patient is gradually exposed to his or her fear, then he or she will learn not to fear it when he finally comes face-to-face with it. This therapy has had a lot of success for phobias because it shows patients that there is nothing to be afraid of, thus ending their fears through confrontation.
Another excellent therapy for phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy. Similar to exposure therapy, this treatment involves identifying the alarm that triggers fear, realizing what beliefs they are connected to, and confronting these beliefs in an effort to cope. If you would like to start your path to recovery, you can track your alarms and beliefs and learn strategies to cope through our ABCtracker™.
More extreme methods for treating anxiety include medications to calm your fears. There are three types of medications to treat phobias:
- Antidepressants: These medications influence the way serotonin moves through the brain in order to influence the patient's mood. These can be useful for phobias by helping to disassociate the patient's alarm with negative emotions.
- Beta Blockers: This medication blocks the effects of adrenaline in your brain, a chemical which increases symptoms of fear and anxiety. This, too, helps the patient disassociate the fear with negative emotions.
- Sedatives: These medications lower general anxiety, which can help the patient think through his or her fear and cope with it accordingly.
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Date of original publication: December 12, 2013