The Surprising Truth About Your Crazy Phobias

I have, quite possibly, the world's most bizarre phobias. In order of terror, they are:

1. Knees and Elbows
2. Cloth napkins
3. Cotton balls

Knees and elbows are specifically an issue when they're not straightened, and loose wrinkled skin can be seen covering the bone. (Just thinking about this, I'm literally doubled over my keyboard in full-on cringe mode.) Cloth napkins have nothing to do with a fear of germs; rather, the starchy texture of the fabric gives me a feeling akin to hearing nails on a chalkboard. Same thing for cotton balls. Pulling apart a fresh glob out of the package . . . shudder.

These phobias stand out because they pose virtually zero threat. A fear of heights is rational when one considers the consequence of falling several stories. But cotton balls? As in teddy bear stuffing? What the hell?

Happily, there may finally be an answer for why I'm such a freak. A new study reveals the possibility that traumatic memories are passed down through generations and encoded in our DNA—which could explain bizarre repulsions.

So how did scientists hit upon this theory? In a closely-monitored experiment, mice smelled cherry blossoms, then were zapped with electrodes so they became afraid of the scent. The mice's offspring, without being subjected to the electric shocks, then exhibited the same fear of cherry blossoms. (I'll be honest, the idea of little mice sniffing the sweet scent of cherry blossoms only to be tasered kind of makes me want to cry. But I digress.)

It seems the phobias most often inherent throughout the generations are related to potential physical traumas, like being attacked by a shark or bitten by a poisonous spider. So basically, it stands to reason that somewhere along my ancestral line, someone was smothered with a cloth napkin while having her knees and elbows pelted with cotton balls.

Scientists want to test this theory on humans—though I have a feeling experiments would be slightly more humane than the sniff-and-zap process they were using on the mice. The goal is to focus on neuropsychiatric disorders, or diseases of the nervous system that result in mental symptoms.

I'm wondering what solutions the experiments could yield. Will it be possible to block the transferral of phobias through the generations? Is that something we'd even want to do—is fear always a bad thing?

Who knows where this research will lead. But in the meantime—please don't come anywhere near me with cotton balls.

Shudder.

Image: ThinkStock

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