A review and meta-analysis of the heritability of specific phobia subtypes and corresponding fears

J Anxiety Disord. 2013 May;27(4):379-88. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2013.04.007. Epub 2013 May 9.


Evidence from twin studies suggests that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing a fear or a phobia. The aim of the present study was to review the current literature regarding twin studies describing the genetic basis of specific phobias and their corresponding fears. The analysis included five twin studies on fears and ten twin studies on specific phobias. Heritability estimates of fear subtypes and specific phobia subtypes both varied widely, even within the subtypes. A meta-analysis performed on the twin study results indicated that fears and specific phobias are moderately heritable. The highest mean heritability (±SEM) among fear subtypes was found for animal fear (45%±0.004), and among specific phobias for the blood-injury-injection phobia (33%±0.06). For most phenotypes, variance could be explained solely by additive genetic and unique environmental effects. Given the dearth of independent data on the heritability of specific phobias and fears, additional research is needed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fear* / psychology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Phobic Disorders / genetics*
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Twin Studies as Topic