My youngest daughter is terrified of sharks. It's a reasonable fear and one that I have as well. Like many from my generation, I blame my fear on the movie "Jaws." But my daughter has not seen that movie, and I have always tried my hardest to downplay my fear — even going so far as to swim in the ocean to let her know that it is safe. But a new study may explain why my daughter developed a fear of sharks anyhow. Turns out, it has less to do with my words and actions and more with my scent.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that children learn fear from their mothers through the smell that their mothers emit when they are distressed. For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and New York University studied mother rats that had been conditioned to fear the smell of peppermint (I don't even want to know how they did that). After these rats had babies, they passed on their fear to their newborn babies via the odor they released when they were exposed to the scent.
Researchers think this may explain how a trauma can affect not only a mother but generations of her children and grandchildren over the years.
Now, I'm not a rat. But this study may explain how my daughter picked up a fear that I learned as a child and have been unable to shake. Next time I am at the ocean, I will try to watch what I do and what I say when I'm staring at the sea — but I don't know what I'll do about any scent I give off.
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