You can thank your ancestors for the strange traits you inherited. Of course, you’ll also want to thank them for your wicked good looks. In addition to passing on traits that determine the color of your eyes and your blood type, according to the Better Health Channel, "some health conditions and diseases can be passed on genetically too." Interestingly, much of your personality may also come from your parents. That’s not to say you aren’t your own unique individual, rather that your genetic makeup makes up a lot more of you than you might have thought.
Yes, while you may believe some of your quirks are completely original, there’s a chance you’re not the first in your family to have an unusual phobia or high pain tolerance. From the way you drive your car to whether or not you’ll go on a second date with that guy you met at Barnes & Noble, here are just a few of the strangest traits you never realized you inherited.
How much you sleep is influenced by your genetics
It turns out your dislike for mornings could be because of mom and dad. A study published in Nature Communications in 2019, one of the largest sleep studies ever recorded, followed over half a million participants’ sleep patterns each and every night. Their research found that sleep traits are, in fact, inherited. As the University of Exeter summarized, there are a whopping 78 regions of genes responsible for how much sleep a person needs each and every night.
While this genetic discovery does help explain why some people simply require more sleep than others, there’s more to it than just that. The amount of sleep a person gets — or doesn’t get — has been linked to an array of other problems, such as insomnia, diabetes, and even heart disease. These diseases are ones that can then be found throughout families, the university explained. Sleep is really just the start of it. Researchers believe these findings to be a big breakthrough when it comes to understanding how long-term diseases develop from family member to family member. Suffice to say, too much or too little sleep can seriously screw up your day!
If bright lights make you sneeze, you probably inherited the condition from your parents
If you find yourself sneezing whenever you’re under bright lights, it’s not just some wacky quirk. And no, you’re also not allergic to the sun. Phew! Photic sneeze reflex is a real condition — and one that you can likely blame your parents for.
People with this reflex sneeze as soon as they experience a sudden change in the amount of light around them. Funnily enough, this condition is also known as autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst — aka ACHOO syndrome. A lot of people may not even realize they have it and plenty of others likely don’t know there’s a name for it!
Although scientists really don’t understand why it happens, photic sneeze reflex affects anywhere from 11 to 35 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition is a dominant trait, so if just one of your parents has it, you have a 50/50 shot of acquiring it too (via Healthline). Achoo!
Your sweet tooth is all thanks to your genes
While some foods may seem like they are an acquired taste, you may have your parents to thank for your palette — or at least your sweet tooth. A 2008 study published in Physiological Genomics has shown that your love for desserts is genetic. Your sweet tooth stems from a gene that is responsible for sensing glucose. Researchers found that those with a change to this gene, called glucose transporter type 2, enjoyed more sugar on a daily basis.
Though this may not seem so healthy, here’s a second study that’s even more satisfying: Research performed by the University of Copenhagen in 2018 found that those with this alternate gene have less body fat, oddly enough. Even those researchers who were involved in the study were surprised. "It sort of contradicts common intuition that people who eat more sugar should have less body fat," co-author Niels Grarup said. Although they found that the difference in body fat may only be minimal, it may just be the excuse you need for that second brownie. Sweet!
It’s possible you inherited your parents’ popularity
According to research, your popularity has a lot to do with your parents. That’s right if you have a cool mom and not a regular mom, you’ll likely also find yourself in the in crowd. A 2009 study out of Harvard University found that the kind of friends you find yourself hanging out with is indeed "strongly heritable." Harvard sociology professor Nicholas Christakis explained, saying, "In fact, the beautiful and complicated pattern of human connection depends on our genes to a significant measure."
Researchers even found that, thanks to your genes, your role in your circle of friends is often similar to that of your family members. One possible explanation for why we seemingly inherit our place in social groups has to do with basic human survival. If a potentially fatal germ begins to spread throughout an area, people who find themselves at the edges of the group are less likely to be infected, but those who find themselves at the center of it all have access to information that can help give guidance to the group. Both kinds of people are needed for a society to survive, so this instinct is essentially built into our DNA. Even if you think you’re cooler than your parents, the science says otherwise.
Your driving skills are inherited
If your driving skills aren’t the best, just point the finger at your folks. It turns out that 30 percent of Americans have a gene variation that limits an essential protein from being produced in the brain. This protein, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), keeps brain cells communicating while at work on a task — like driving.
A 2009 study conducted by the University of California Irvine found that people who had this specific gene were 20 percent more likely to perform worse in a driving test when compared to others who did not possess the gene. Interestingly, the drivers with the BDNF gene not only made more mistakes, but researchers also noticed that the participants’ memories were worse when it came to remembering how to properly turn the wheel (via The Tech Interactive).
"I’d be curious to know the genetics of people who get into car crashes," senior author of the study Dr. Steven Cramer said. We definitely would too! While more research is certainly needed, at least you have someone else to blame for your fender bender, right? Whoopsies!
Some of your fears may be inherited from your family
Spiders, heights, and bears — oh my! If any, or all, of these terrifying terms make you cringe deep down to your core, it could be because of your genetic makeup. According to Anxiety.org, most phobias are commonly passed down from a family member. Thanks, mom.
Although scientists still aren’t sure exactly why this is, there are a few possible explanations. Phobias usually manifest in childhood and can be caused by witnessing someone experiencing something horrifying or even just hearing a horrible story from Uncle Gus at Thanksgiving dinner. However, there is likely more science to it than that.
One study published in JAMA Psychiatry back in 2003 found that twins can inherit the same types of fears, which goes to show it’s more than just learned behavior. Luckily, many phobias can be addressed through therapy if they eventually get too extreme. And, well, you know who to send the bill to.
Genetic inheritance plays a role in attraction
Your parents may think they have a big say in who you’re dating, and scientifically speaking, it’s actually true. Who you’re attracted to is something that is inherited. Research published in Genome Biology in 2016 found that people are more attracted to those that are the same height as themselves. It turns out that the genes responsible for determining your height also helps determine who you are attracted to. "We found that 89% of the genetic variation affecting individual preferences for height and one’s own height are shared, indicating that there’s an innate preference for partners of similar height," the study’s lead author, Albert Tenesa, explained of the research.
Another study from 2017 published in Nature Human Behavior took this finding a step further to figure out what else happens to be hereditary. Their research found that people end up with a partner who has a similar body shape and blood pressure levels too. It seems opposites don’t necessarily attract!
Tone deafness is a heritable condition
If you’re tone deaf, you should know that you are not alone. In fact, there’s a good chance someone else in your family also has the musical impairment, which is also known as congenital amusia. Additionally, 4 percent of the world’s population is tone deaf.
A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics set out to understand exactly why some people cannot properly identify different pitches. Researchers uncovered that those who are unable to keep a tune have less white matter in the right inferior frontal cortex of their brains, which causes a weaker connection when processing songs and other sounds. Harvard Medical School even revealed from brain scans that the more tone deaf a person is, the thinner the white matter in their brain is. Now that there is finally an explanation for your impairment, you can hum a happy tune — or maybe not.
Procrastination may be inherited
If you find yourself putting off work until the last minute, it turns out that your parents may have given you this gift with their genetics. Lucky you! Procrastinating has everything to do with how our bodies initiate motivational control mechanisms in our brains.
According to Medical News Today, women who possess the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene are more likely to procrastinate. This gene regulates dopamine, and dopamine carries messages to our brains while dealing with tasks that require attention and motivation. "The neurotransmitter dopamine has repeatedly been associated with increased cognitive flexibility in the past," researcher Dr. Erhan Genç explained to the publication. "This is not fundamentally bad but is often accompanied by increased distractibility." However, this gene may not be the only factor at play. Researchers also looked at male participants with the TH gene, but these individuals were not found to be more likely to procrastinate.
Your dental health is inherited
Taking care of your teeth may be a personal choice that you have power over, but you will soon discover that the dental problems you have are, in large part, due to your genes. Even if your parents taught you awesome oral hygiene habits when it comes to keeping your chompers clean, you may still be at a higher risk for dental issues.
According to Delta Dental, various versions of the gene beta-defensin 1 are responsible. While you may brush and floss the recommended twice per day, these genes are more likely to get you a cavity. Luckily, cavities are treatable. However, leaving your teeth untreated can lead to gum disease and even losing them altogether.
Genetics are also responsible when it comes to the shape of your jaw. This can create crowded teeth, an overbite, or an underbite that could warrant braces. That’s right, folks, your parents are who to blame for your metal mouth in middle school.
Your pain tolerance is partially passed down from your parents
We all experience pain in completely different ways. However, research has shown that the way we tolerate distress could be because of mom and dad.
Science says it’s hard to pinpoint a specific gene, though, because there are several at play when it comes to pain. However, your genetic makeup has a lot to do with it. One specific review published in Oral Diseases in 2009 found that the way a person experiences pain is linked to a person’s sex, age, and even race — and thus inherited from your parents.
One study cited in the review focused on twins, in particular, and found that half of their responses to pain were due to genetics. The environment also has an effect on pain tolerance as well. Of course, all these different factors help explain why it’s so difficult for researchers to distinguish a specific gene; there are countless combinations.
You inherit how many colors you are able to see
The color of your eyes is determined by your parents, but you may not have realized that the actual colors you see with them are as well. Color blindness can even be inherited if your parents aren’t color blind; they just have to be carrying the gene to pass it along. "If you are colour blind it means the instructions for the development of your cone cells are faulty and the cone cells might be missing, or less sensitive to light or it may be that the pathway from your cone cells to your brain has not developed correctly," Colour Blind Awareness explained.
On the opposite end of the (color) spectrum is tetrachromacy. It’s possible for your parents to pass along the gene for an extra cone, giving you the ability to see a fourth dimension of color while most people only see three. Because it is carried in the X chromosome, women are more likely to have it (via Healthline). In fact, about 12 percent of women carry an extra cone in their eyes, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Vision. Turns out, the skill was never just a pigment of their imaginations.
Whether or not you like to work out seems to be inherited
While genetics may have given you a not-so athletic body, your dislike of diving into the world of workouts could have been passed along by your parents too.
According to a 2014 study of rats published in The Journal of Physiology revealed that wanting to exercise — or not — could be inherited. And it’s not just because you never watched your parents work out while growing up. Researchers found that rats that weren’t excited about exercising actually had specific kinds of neurons in their brains that hadn’t completely matured. This had a large effect on cell cycles and pathways that our genes are responsible for creating.
Interestingly enough, the study also found that incorporating just a little exercise early on in life was enough to counter being a total couch potato — or whatever the rat equivalent of that is. Of course, more research is needed to study if this is also true in humans, but the study’s author believes the data suggests it is (via The New York Times).
You may have inherited your love of coffee
Some people just can’t live without their morning cup of coffee, and there’s a scientific reason they can’t seem to stay awake without it: genetics.
Not everybody has the ability to taste the bitterness that coffee lovers crave. And a single gene, called the PTC gene, is what’s responsible. There are quite a few different forms of this gene that help form our feelings toward foods and the amount of bitterness we’re willing to bite down on or gulp down, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah. "Since all people have two copies of every gene, combinations of the bitter taste gene variants determine whether someone finds PTC [which is similar in bitterness to coffee] intensely bitter, somewhat bitter, or without taste at all," the university explained.
Research published in Scientific Reports in 2018 found that those with the bitter-loving form of this gene were more likely to drink at least four cups of coffee everyday. Yes, your genetics may have just helped create your caffeine habit!