Evolution

If These Images Freak You Out, You Might Have Trypophobia

Honeycomb, soap bubbles, and aerated chocolate are all wholesome enough. But the images of those things will incite an intense visceral reaction in roughly 15 percent of the population. If you have trypophobia, you know the feeling.

Holey Cow!

Trypophobia sufferers freak out at the sight of clusters of tiny holes or bumps: Think lotus seed pods, boiled milk, and, dear god, the surinam toad. Though it's called trypophobia, this, um, condition isn't a phobia. There's no mention of the thing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But it's not even really a fear, either, as much as it is a deep disgust.

It's not (yet?) a recognized phobia, but it's become something of a phenomenon recently (the first study about it was published in 2013). In fact, some people completely deny its existence. In a 2016 study, the condition was found to be predicted by someone's disgust sensitivity, proneness to visual discomfort, and empathic traits. Call it whatever you want, but it's legit to be totally grossed out by a freak toad.

Evolution Does It Again

Scientists think they've identified what about trypophobia-inducing images makes people squirm. Hint: It's not about holes. (It's not a product of internet trolls, either.) According to a study published in Psychological Science, trypophobia-inducing images are similar to the patterns on poisonous things found in nature. So maybe an intense disgust, or fear, of these hole-like sequences is an evolutionary response that helps keeps us away from danger.

A 2015 Ph.D. thesis from the University of Essex found that these spectral compositions are also found on contamination sources, such as skin lesions. Will this information help you resist the urge to squeal at the sight of the aforementioned holey-backed amphibian? Nah, but at least your logical brain will be comforted.

To learn about more phobias, check out "The A to Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties" by Ronald M., Ph.D.,‎ Ada P. Kahn,‎ and Christine A. Adamec. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Understanding Trypophobia: the Fear of Holes

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Written by Joanie Faletto July 26, 2017

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