Ace Meltzer
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Is Generational Trauma Hardwired in Our DNA?

— Ace Meltzer

Generational trauma is spread through stories, shared memories and behavior. But is it also in our genes? I propose an experiment that tests whether communication between generations is necessary to pass down trauma, and whether the answer may lie in tactile genetic memory.

Tactile memory refers to memories related to touch. For example, the memory of how your childhood blanket felt or knowing how yarn feels without touching it. Are these memories transferable between generations?

To test this, I would take four adult rats of both sexes that had grown up in captivity with exactly the same upbringing. I would then split them into two groups: Group A (containing one male and one female) and Group C (also containing one male and one female). 

The two A rats would be placed in a room half covered by an electric carpet and would be conditioned to fear the carpet through electric shocks. Once this conditioning is complete, the A rats would be introduced to each other and allowed to breed.

The C rats would live the same lives as the A rats, just without the electric carpet. The A and C rats must never meet. Then, once the A rats and C rats have had a litter (A1 and C1, respectively), half the young mice would be switched from one group to the other. That is, half of the A1 rats would be given to the C rats to raise, and half of the C1 rats would be given to the A rats to raise. After some time, the A1 and C1 rats would be placed in separate rooms with a non-electric carpet, where they would be carefully observed. The room must retain no pheromones or nail marks left by the A rats that could compromise the experiment. If the A1 rats avoid the carpet, that is proof of tactile genetic memory being a possible explanation for generational trauma.

I predict that both groups of the A1 rats will avoid the carpet, and the children of the C1 rats raised by the A rats will be suspicious of the carpet at first, but not to the degree that the A1 rats will be. But am I right? Only one way to find out, I suppose…


Dias, B. G., & Ressler, K. J. (2014, Jan). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience, 17 (2014 Nature America, Inc), 1-11.

Homunkulus. (2016, June 23). Graphic DNA structure vector image. VectorStock.