Trypophobia is a proposed phobia (intense, irrational fear, or anxiety) of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps. The condition is not officially recognized as a mental disorder, and is rarely referenced in scientific literature.
Although few studies have been done on trypophobia, researchers hypothesize that it is the result of a biological revulsion that associates trypophobic shapes with danger or disease, and may therefore have an evolutionary basis.[
The term trypophobia is believed to have been coined by a participant in an online forum in 2005. Since then, the concept of trypophobia has become popular on social media.
Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins of the University of Essex’s Centre for Brain Science were the first scientists to publish on the phenomenon. They believe the reaction is based on a biological revulsion, rather than a learned cultural fear. In a 2013 article in Psychological Science, Cole and Wilkins write that the reaction is based on “the primitive portion of the brain” that associates the shapes with danger, and that it is an “unconscious reflex reaction”. Imagery of various poisonous animals (for example, certain types of snakes, insects, and spiders) have the same visual characteristics. Because of this, Cole and Wilkins hypothesized that trypophobia has an evolutionary basis meant to alert humans of dangerous organisms. They believed this to be an evolutionary advantage, although it also causes people to fear harmless objects.
Cole and Wilkins analyzed videos and images containing clusters of holes, with the images presented in an arrangement that was considered to rank the likelihood they will induce fear. Early images in the series include fruits such as oranges and pomegranates. Then, clusters of holes with a possible association with danger are presented, such as honeycombs, frogs, and insects and arachnids. Finally, images feature wounds and diseases. Using this data, Cole and Wilkins analyzed example images and believe that the images had “unique characteristics”. In another research article, An Trong Dinh Le, Cole and Wilkins developed a symptom questionnaire that they say can be used to identify trypophobia.
Cole and Wilkins also stated that “given the large number of images associated with trypophobia, some of which do not contain clusters of holes but clusters of other objects, these results suggest that holes alone are unlikely to be the only cause for this condition” and they “consider that the fear of holes does not accurately reflect the condition.”
Other researches have speculated that the images could be perceived as cues to infectious disease (similar to reactions to images of leprosy, smallpox and measles, which manifest as small bumps and clusters on the skin) or parasites, which could be alerts that give one a survival advantage. That the images invoke thoughts of decay, which is why mold on bread or vegetables have certain visual cues and characteristics similar to trypophobic stimuli, has also been theorized. Conversely, psychiatrist Carol Mathews believes that trypophobic responses are more likely from priming and conditioning.
Wilkins and Le also considered that the discomfort from trypophobic images is due to the geometry of the holes making excessive demands on the brain; they stated that these excessive demands may cause visual discomfort, eyestrain or headache, adding that these images have mathematical properties that cannot be processed efficiently by the brain and therefore require more brain oxygenation. Wilkins and researcher Paul Hibbard proposed that the discomfort occurs when people avoid looking at the images because they require excessive brain oxygenation, adding that the brain uses about 20 per cent of the body’s energy, and its energy usage needs to be kept to a minimum. They stated that mold and skin diseases can provoke disgust in most people, regardless of whether or not the people have trypophobia, and that they are investigating why some people and not others experience an emotional response in these cases.
Signs and symptoms
Shapes that elicit a trypophobic reaction include clustered holes in innocuous contexts, such as fruit and bubbles, and in contexts associated with danger, such as holes made by insects and holes in wounds and diseased tissue such as those caused by mango worms in animals, especially dogs. Upon seeing these shapes, some people said they shuddered, felt their skin crawl, experienced panic attacks, sweated, palpitated, and felt nauseated or itchy. Some said the holes seemed “disgusting and gross” or that “something might be living inside those holes”. Other reported symptoms include goose bumps, body shakes, feeling uncomfortable, and visual discomfort such as eyestrain, distortions, or illusions.
Trypophobia-The Fear of Holes?(VIDEO)
Trypophobia, characterised as the fear of holes, has also been linked to a more generalised aversion to circular shapes such as bubbles. But what makes bubbles so disgusting? The answer may be found lurking just under the skin.
Previous evidence suggested that the fear of bubbles stemmed from the clusters of round shapes found on poisonous animals, such as snakes and the blue-ringed octopus.But a new theory from psychologists at the University of Kent suggests our innate suspicion of rough circular shapes could, in fact, be linked to a history of human illness.
Tom Kupfer, of the University’s School of Psychology, noted that many infectious diseases result in clusters of round shapes on the skin: smallpox, measles, rubella, typhus, scarlet fever etc. Similarly, many ectoparasites, like scabies, ticks and botfly also lead to clusters of round shapes on the skin. In other words, if your skin starts popping, it’s probably a bad sign.
Kupfer recruited 300 trypophobia sufferers from various support groups, as well as 300 university students with no known history of the condition. Both groups were given 16 cluster images of real objects related to a diseased part of the body. Eight pictures were focused on images of illness – including but not limited to such nauseating sights as a cluster of ticks and a circular-shaped rash in the centre of someone’s chest. The other eight images were unrelated to illness or disease, such as drilled holes in a brick wall, or lotus flower seeds.