Gransnet forums


Instinct or Inherited Memory?

(38 Posts)
HollyDaze Fri 21-Mar-14 15:52:11

Have you ever taken an instinctive dislike to something or feared something that seems irrational?

I dislike anything with wings fluttering around me and I've lost count of the times I've been told 'they won't hurt you' - I know that! I just don't like it.

It now seems that these 'instinctual' reactions could be inherited memories:

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest.

Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

The animals were trained to fear a smell similar to cherry blossom.

The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm.

They showed a section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was made more active in the mice's sperm.

Both the mice's offspring, and their offspring, were "extremely sensitive" to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experienced it in their lives.

"The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations," the report concluded.

The findings provide evidence of "transgenerational epigenetic inheritance" - that the environment can affect an individual's genetics, which can in turn be passed on.

Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London, said the findings were "highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders" and provided "compelling evidence" that a form of memory could be passed between generations

Do you feel that anything irrational that you fear or dislike could be explained by this?

JessM Fri 21-Mar-14 16:03:45

Never knew cherry blossom had much of a smell.
This epigenetics stuff is pretty weird and new.

Galen Fri 21-Mar-14 16:04:08


HollyDaze Fri 21-Mar-14 16:09:28

It is weird JessM but could go some way in explaining odd reactions to things and help treat people with phobias.

HollyDaze Fri 21-Mar-14 16:10:57

Galen - maybe a grandfather or grandmother fell from a ladder or tumbled downstairs?

I wonder if humanity will ever reach the stage when everything can be explained and will we miss the mystery of life!

mollie Fri 21-Mar-14 16:19:31

I've not considered it for fears or phobias (probably because I don't have any bad ones) but I have thought about an inherited memory in relation to place. It is the only way to explain the coincidences in the family history and the sense of knowing a place that we've never visited before that some of us have experienced. I'd certainly like it to be proven.

Nonnie Fri 21-Mar-14 16:19:32

I don't want to believe this as it sort of implies that I could be like one of my parents and that is not a pleasant thought.

Grannyknot Fri 21-Mar-14 16:26:06

Holly that is fascinating.

I remember years ago reading a book called (I think) The Memory of Water and it was to do with 'cell memory'.

annodomini Fri 21-Mar-14 17:39:56

I wonder if this applies to dogs. My parents had a yellow labrador whose father had been the champion gun dog of Scotland. Our dog had never been out with the guns, in fact she was thrown out of obedience classes. However, when a friend of Dad's 'borrowed' her for a day's shooting, she knew exactly how to retrieve and behaved impeccably. Heredity, or just being a labrador.

nanos8 Fri 21-Mar-14 19:50:15

Mollie I agree I'd like inherited memory proven so many times when the feeling of deja vu is overwhelming and you can't quite pinpoint the reason.
I think dogs have this ability of inherited memory annodomini don't they. Did I read they can literally 'sniff' the history of an area or carpet etc. and recall heredity experiences. Scarey stuff.
Hollydaze how interesting the possibility of inherited memories are.

rosequartz Fri 21-Mar-14 20:07:41

I wonder if that is where I have heard of it before, Grannyknot? I haven't read that book but perhaps read a review of it.

Flies, bees etc don't worry me, but fluttery things, such as butterflies, moths, crane flies do, despite having tried to overcome my fear over the years.

HollyDaze Sun 23-Mar-14 16:03:33

Mollie - it seems pretty certain that experiences are passed on as the study has shown. Like you, I do wonder about memories, or reactions, to certain places or situations; if memories of fear are passed on, why not others?

HollyDaze Sun 23-Mar-14 16:04:23

Grannknot - I'm pleased you enjoyed reading it. There are still so many things we don't understand but you can't help getting the feeling that the surface is definitely being scratched!

HollyDaze Sun 23-Mar-14 16:07:25

annodomini - dogs do behave in what can seem a peculiar or puzzling manner can't they. I adopted a dog on the Isle of Man (she was born on the Island and lived here all of her life) but I took her to Birmingham with me to visit relatives. Whilst walking her, we came to the front of a house (well, the garden gate) and she flipped out and pulled like mad on the lead; very out of character for her and we both ended up on the roadside near the kerb - that's how much she took me by surprise. She wouldn't get back on the pavement until we were well past that house. I tried her there another couple of times and each time, she refused to walk anywhere near the property. What caused it I have no idea but some smell or sight triggered off something.

HollyDaze Sun 23-Mar-14 16:08:20

nanos8 - pleased you enjoyed reading about it smile

Iam64 Sun 23-Mar-14 17:33:28

Fascinating stuff isn't it. I suspect we find it easier to accept that dogs inherit either characteristics, or some breed memory, than we do about people. What is exciting, is that humanity continues to find out more, about well, humanity

Nelliemoser Sun 23-Mar-14 19:12:00

Some breeds of dogs used for particular tasks seem to develop the instincts needed for the tasks. Border Collies for example seem to have an instinct for sheep herding that other dogs do not have. This has presumably come down a genetic line.

So these actual behaviour patterns are somehow inscribed on the "chemistry" of a gene. All very interesting.

Dragonfly1 Sun 23-Mar-14 19:22:44

My ruddy English Springer certainly has inherited instincts. Anything that moves when we're out is a pheasant in disguise in her mind. Today she tried to 'flush' a heron. The heron won.

seasider Mon 24-Mar-14 07:19:30

Read an article years ago that suggested deja-vu experiences, where you feel you have been somewhere before , were simply down to inherited memory. Nobody believed me so glad to read about this study smile

HollyDaze Mon 24-Mar-14 07:43:29

My ruddy English Springer certainly has inherited instincts. Anything that moves when we're out is a pheasant in disguise in her mind. Today she tried to 'flush' a heron. The heron won.


I have a Springer Spaniel (adopted) whose first 3 years of life was as a gun dog and he will also try to chase things down and a loud bang and he's off running - with me being dragged behind grin; I've worked on him though over the last 4 years and he's calmed down a lot but still, as you have said, Dragonfly, still tries to retrieve things.

HollyDaze Mon 24-Mar-14 07:45:36

seasider - it's strange isn't it how some ideas that were once disregarded end up getting some credence later on; maybe those old wives knew what they were talking about wink

Aka Mon 24-Mar-14 08:01:55

holly perhaps there was a car scarer in in that garden that your dog was reacting to.

Iam64 Mon 24-Mar-14 08:03:57

HollyDaze, maybe they did, maybe there is indeed ancient wisdom if only we'd listen to it. I have two cross breeds, both from gun dog and poodle stock. Their genetic/inherited personality types are just there. They flush birds, retrieve from water, the one with hunting standard type poodle in her family tree was born to hunt and it's taken a lot of work to persuade her that leaping 4 foot walls to pursue deer etc is not a Good Thing.Both of them greet any visitor, including me, by bringing a gift, carried softly in their mouths. On a more human front, my nephew is in his mid 30's and has become increasingly like his maternal great uncle in both personality type, mannerisms, general approach to life and relationships. Physically, he looks so like his ancestor as well. The two never met, and the uncle had died many years before my nephew was born.

HollyDaze Mon 24-Mar-14 08:05:25

I couldn't see anything in the front garden of the house Aka and no-one was about (this was about 15 years ago so not sure if cat scarers were around then or not but it could explain it if they were). Very strange though. I found I'd walk past that house looking very sceptically at it grin

glammanana Mon 24-Mar-14 08:07:18

The only real phobia I have is seeing birds in cages,I can't go into the area of a pet shop where they keep budgies etc as just the sight of them frighten me and I would never be able to get near one if my life depended on it,but I spend lots of time watching the birds nest & hatch out in the tree's in our garden & ajoining pathways.