Anxieties That Are Part of Our Genetic Heritage


Those of us who suffer with anxiety are frequently reacting to fearful thoughts about a future situation.

However, some fears we experience in response to our environment are apparently wired into us.

According to some evolutionary biologists, several fears that might seem irrational are a permanent part of our genetic makeup. The natural selection process that our ancestors experienced created a genetic pool of programmed heightened responses to patterns in nature.

Six Reactions To Shapes Programmed Into Our Genes

Research suggests a cautionary awareness of specific shapes—on objects or creatures that could end our ancestors’ lives—became embedded in our genes. This helped humanity survive and is responsible for some fear reactions we have today.

  1. Pointy Things. Humans generally have strong reactions to objects in nature that are pointed. For example, people tend to notice and respond to plants with spiny projections or leaves shaped like daggers. Although most of us do not live a lifestyle where we are likely to be punctured by a plant, it was a daily possibility for some predecessors.
  2. Tessellated Patterns. A tessellated pattern provides camouflage for snakes. Spots, stripes, or complex markings that have crossing lines and lots of edges—as on snake skin—are tessellated. The visual center in the human brain shows increased neural activity in response to checkerboard textures and diamond shapes. Our peripheral vision is especially good at detecting these scale prone patterns.
  3. Rosette Shapes. You know what rosette shapes are if you have ever looked at a leopard’s spots. Leopards have enjoyed primates for dinner over millennia. In parts of the world today, leopards are responsible for many human deaths. It seems people (even infants) are fascinated by, and wary of, yellow-orange rosette markings.
  4. Microbes. We did not know what microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi) were until the 1600s, but we did see their effects: rotting meat, feces, dead bodies, and infected wounds. Our revulsion over the handiwork of microbes is likely linked to our anxieties about these invisible organisms.
  5. Eye-like Forms. When the taillights on cars are designed as two circles—one within the other—people have a heightened physical response to them. Many animals and humans react strongly to two staring eyes, and objects with an eye shape. Facing eyes may simply grab our attention but can also arouse suspicion. Imagine walking at night and coming face to face with a couple bright yellow eyes shining out of the dark; most of us would sense a rush of adrenaline.
  6. Uneven Ground. Although many people enjoy traversing rugged terrain, our brains appear wired to give us an exaggerated sense of its danger. Our perceptual faculties make vertical irregularities in our surroundings look larger than they are. This may help us use caution and common sense when navigating rapids, rock faces, or waterfalls.

Source: Discovery Magazine


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979