Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am wondering whether a behavioral trait (e.g. fear or stress experienced in the lifetime of the parent) can be transmitted genetically to its offspring?

I understand that a behavioral tendency for stress acquired through evolutionary time can be transmitted from parent to child, but I'm wondering whether a trait not present before can be transmitted between 2 generations.

For example many studies claim that offsprings of holocaust survivors inherit psychopathological disorders. I'm wondering how this inheritance could occur genetically given such a short time period?

share|improve this question
You may want to have a look at:… and – nico Jul 30 '12 at 17:34
great, thanks ! – DBR Jul 30 '12 at 17:43
I think this is a duplicate of the question @nico mentions. In particular, the answer there completely solves this question. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 31 '12 at 4:09
This is a perfectly good question, but my answer linked above is relevant. The short version: it's not genetic; stress is transmitted hormonally from mother to child. – Richard Smith-Unna Jul 31 '12 at 8:38
Vote to reopen - whilst the other question is similar, there are specific features related to the human case which warrant a separate answer (which I was just about to post when the Q was closed!) – Richard Smith-Unna Jul 31 '12 at 9:58

Strictly speaking no. There are ideas about cultural inheritance though that seem relevant here: see Cultural inheritance theory uses the plasticity of the human brain as the evidence for the underlying genetics of culture. I.e. we aren't born with the ability to speak English because our parents learned it but we have an the underlying brain structure that is controlled by genetics to learn cultural traits. It seems far more likely that the phenomenon you describe with holocaust survivors is more related to some environmental effects (from their parents) than anything genetic. In the comments stress hormones in pregnant mothers were mentioned. Any impact these have on the offspring are not truly "genetic", they're termed "maternal effects" in the evolution literature. In fact most selection studies go to great lengths to control for them or eliminate them. They aren't truly genetic because these traits would never get passed down to the grandoffspring of the original mother.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.