According to ancient Hindu mythology, Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna learnt about the intricacies of different war formations from his mother, Subhadra’s womb. It is said that Arjuna, his father, taught the details of different war formations to his wife and Abhimanyu’s mother, Subhadra when he was in her womb.

In popular culture it is said that when Arjuna was explaining to Subhadra about a complex war formation known as chakravyuha and she fell asleep before Arjuna could complete. Abhimanyu’s education was incomplete about how to tackle this complex battle formation. This proved to be his nemesis and he was killed while trying escape from the midst of this battle formation.  

This story may seem farfetched but researchers from University of Michigan Medical School and New York University say that this may be true and babies can learn what to fear in the first days of their life by smelling the odors of their troubled or distressed mothers. A group of researchers from University of Michigan Medical School and New York University studied mother rats that had been taught to fear the smell of peppermint. Researchers learnt that if the mother learnt to fear some particular thing before her pregnancy, its offspring also learnt to fear the same through the odor its mother secreted when she is distressed.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers have also been able to locate the region of the brain where the fear transmission takes root in the earliest days of life.

Jacek Debiec, the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research said, “During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories.”

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