A Fear Factor Gene? Perhaps, But Environment Also Plays a Role
in Fears and Phobias
by Seymour Segnit
Last month scientists announced the discovery of what is being
widely called a "fear factor gene" - a gene that influences
whether we feel panic and anxiety. Researchers found that the
way laboratory mice feel fear is controlled by the gene
stathmin. Mice with low levels of a protein produced by stathmin
gene were fearless is situations where normal mice felt fear and
All of this re-visits the classic nature versus nurture debate,
asking how much of our behavior is determined by our genes and
how much is learned from our environment and life experience.
Can we really control our fears and phobias or has biology wired
certain people to be phobic?
I have a great deal of interest in this debate, because I've
spent the last several years helping hundreds of clients
overcome chronic fears and phobias. I've personally helped
people overcome common fears such as the fear
of flying and fear of public speaking, as well as less common phobias
such as the fear of bridges.
While I think that it's wonderful news that scientists have made
this genetic link, but there's a risk in announcing it this way.
The danger is that it could trigger a sense of helplessness
among many people who suffer from phobias; that people will say
"I can't help it, it's in my genes," much like an obese person
saying that their weight problem is rooted in genetics, when in
fact there is a pattern of personal behavior that aggravates the
Science recognizes that our genes play a role in determining who
we are, but environment is also considered a key factor, and the
interaction between genes and environment is quite complex. By
environment, we mean both your physical environment and your
I strongly believe that a range of environmental factors
influence how people deal with fear. One leading factor is
The first thing I teach my clients is to accept responsibility
for their fear, to claim ownership of it. You can only beat your
phobia if you do that. And the problem with blaming it all on
genetics is that you are definitely not accepting
responsibility. You accomplish nothing by saying "I can't help
it. It's in my genes. Maybe they'll develop a drug I can take."
With phobias, you're dealing with very strong reactions to what
are in some cases quite minor stimuli. I teach people to break
the negative association they have to the stimulus, and perhaps
even associate it with a positive thing.
People can change their lives and often in rapid and dramatic
fashion. Your genes aren't your destiny.
About the author:
CTRN, which stands for Change That's Right Now, has helped
hundreds of people overcome chronic fears and phobias using the
processes of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Time Line
TherapyT. The company offers confidential one-on-one coaching,
as well as a home study CD kit.
For more information, please visit the CTRN web site at ChangeThatsRightNow.com