Is fear of cats hereditary? Or better put: is a fear of cats inherited? I chose the former title because people use that phrase.
There is a nice story on The Daily Journal.com about a fear of cats [link to this story but please come back!]. The author of the article, Ken White, says that he was raised by a person who feared cats; an ailurophobic and she was his mother. She saw cats as evil and crossed the road to avoid them. She’d refer to cats as ‘dirty’ and ‘horrible’.
Ken loves cats and animals as he is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. He has no fear of cats and yet he is the son of a near paranoid ailurophobe – a person who genuinely feared cats. This does not mean that a fear of cats is not inherited but it does mean that offspring don’t always have the same fear of cats as their parents and are unlikely to do so, in my view. Although an ailurophobic parent might instil in a child a strong dislike of cats bordering on fear because of being indoctrinated by him/her about the evil nature of the innocent domestic cat. This would not be inheritance but an example of experience dictating character. In the nature-nurture debate a fear of cats is more to do with ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’.
However, you’ll probably find that ailurophobia is a mixture of inherited traits and personal experiences or experience, the latter being the more important. It is generally agreed that a bad cat encounter early in life is the most common cause.
It can be overcome by a desensitisation process taken patiently. It incorporates a gradual exposure to cats in very small steps until the patient is completely relaxed in their presence.
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