Let's talk aboutFear of Heights & Genetics

Does the thought of rock climbing or zip lining high off the ground make you tremble? It turns out your genetics may play a role.

How it works

While standing upright, the brain uses visual input from nearby objects to make tiny postural adjustments that help maintain balance. However, when standing at a high elevation relative to their surroundings – like at the edge of a tall building – most people feel somewhat off balance. This is because visual input from nearby objects is lacking, and the objects in view are too far away for the brain to use for balance control.

The genetic link

23andMe researchers identified 392 genetic markers that were associated with being afraid of heights. They used these markers together with non-genetic factors, specifically age and sex, to create a statistical model that predicts the chance of being afraid of heights.

person on tall building

Did you know?

The average 23andMe consented research participant has a 29% chance of having a fear of heights.

Explore more

23andMe can give you a closer look at some of the genetic variants that influence fear of heights. Pick up one of our services, such as our Health + Ancestry Service, to find out whether you’re more likely than average to be afraid of heights based on your genetics and other factors.

Health + Ancestry Service Kit

Health + Ancestry Service

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Coelho CM et al. (2015). “Visuo-vestibular contributions to anxiety and fear.” Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 48:148-59.

Furlotte NA et al. (2015). “23andMe White Paper 23-12: Estimating complex phenotype prevalence using predictive models.” 23andMe White Paper 23-12.

Salassa JR et al. (2009). “Love and fear of heights: the pathophysiology and psychology of height imbalance.” Wilderness Environ Med. 20(4):378-82.