Trypophobia is an intense fear of small holes packed together into a definite pattern. The moment you see holes in that pattern, your skin crawls into a gooseflesh, and your hairs rise on end. You look away, feeling queasy, never wanting to look back.
Some believe almost all of us are trypophobic, but we do not know it unless we test ourselves. Find out if you are one of those who does not have this bizarre phobia.
What is Trypophobia?
Trypophobia is an irrational fear and disgust of clustered holes, like a beehive, or shapes resembling holes, like bubble wraps. Research suggests the trypophobics actually do not fear the holes; rather, clustered holes.
Trypophobia has been described as a phobia to images with high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies, such as holes and repetitive patterns (Martinez-Aguayo, 2018).
The term trypophobia was coined in 2005 by combining the Greek ‘‘trypo,’’ meaning punching, drilling, or boring holes, and ‘‘phobia,’’ meaning fear.
Trypophobia refers to disgust for a cluster of objects and is considered an extension of disgust for dangerous objects. Furthermore, trypophobic images possess certain spatial properties that can induce perceptually unpleasant states (Imaizumi, 2016).
How do you know if you have trypophobia?
To test for trypophobia, a person needs exposure to pictures of clustered holes. The phobic reaction can be provoked by images of honeycombs, beehives, coral, sea sponges, lotus seed pods, strawberries, lava stones, pomegranates, bubble-wraps, cluster-eyes seen in close-ups of housefly heads.
- Trypophobia is primarily a sympathetic nervous system response, which triggers our fight-or-flight response. Most trypophobic people show disgust as their main symptom.
- Seeing trypophobic images, some people said they shuddered, felt their skin crawl, sweated, palpitated, or felt nauseated or panicky.
- Others reported goosebumps, itchiness, body tremors, feeling uneasy, eyestrain, and even visual distortions or illusions.
- Le et al. (2015) created a 17-item scale to evaluate trypophobic symptoms. The team named this scale the Trypophobia Questionnaire (TQ). It presents high consistency, validity, good test-retest reliability, and good sensitivity and specificity.
- Imaizumi et al (2016) suggest trypophobia proneness may be related to empathic traits, like perspective-taking, empathic concern, and personal distress. Patients with this phobia often have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety (SA).
- Vlok-Barnard and Stein (2017) found most of the participants who suffered from trypophobia fulfilled the DSM-5 criteria for a specific phobia, experiencing disgust rather than fear when confronted with clusters of holes. But they did not meet the clinical criterion of distress or impairment. Only a small percentage of them fulfilled the DSM-5 criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Of note, in the Vlok-Barnard and Stein study, 60.5% reported mostly disgust when confronted with clusters of holes, while 11.8% reported only disgust, 5.1% reported mostly fear, while 1% experienced only fear, and 21% experienced the same amount of fear and disgust.
Trypophobia may get immediately and intensely triggered by pictures of clustered, punched-out holes on human skin. People usually create these by make-up trickery. To find out if you have this phobia, watch the video at the end of this article.
Why causes the fear in Trypophobia?
- Earlier, trypophobia was thought to be a result of fear we gleaned from our evolutionary instincts when we ran on seeing a pattern of holes on poisonous animals with spots, like snakes (Cole & Wilkins, 2013).
- Later, researchers Kupfer and Le (2017) suggested the fear is caused by hole-clusters that look similar to ectoparasites and skin-transmitted pathogens.
- Yamada and Sasaki (2017) suggest there might be a link between aversion to irregular clusters of pustules or roughly circular shapes on human skin and trypophobia.
- A more recent theory about trypophobia as an involuntary reaction to skin eruptions (dermatosis) has also been suggested. The theory has not yet been supported by ample evidence.
- Trypophobia may also be triggered by viewing certain geometric patterns (Wikins et al., 1984). The discomfort triggered by clusters of concave objects is not significantly than clusters of convex objects (Le et al., 2015).
Is Trypophobia a real phobia?
Thousands of people across the world claim to be affected by trypophobia. Research strongly suggests some people actually feel this fear, but trypophobia is not yet an officially recognized phobia in scientific literature.
Most trypophobic people show disgust instead of fear as their main symptom, so it is more of an anxiety disorder than a phobia.
For the record, trypophobia is not currently recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5). Trypophobia is also not recognized by the members of the American Psychiatric Association.
However, it is believed that it affects around 20% of the population, causing sufferers to experience goosebumps, apprehension, panic attacks, and nausea. Here are some research findings:
- A 2017 study (Disgusting clusters: trypophobia as an overgeneralized disease avoidance response by Kupfer & Le) suggests this aversion to clusters is “an evolutionarily prepared response” that helps avoid a class of stimuli resembling infectious parasites and insects.
- The study authors found while normal, as well as trypophobic participants, showed aversion towards disease-relevant cluster stimuli, but only the trypophobic group showed aversion towards objectively harmless cluster stimuli that had no relevance to disease.
- Researchers Can, Zhuoran, & Zheng (2017), say it is questionable whether it is justified to legitimize trypophobia. They suggest the discomfort felt toward trypophobic images might be an instinctive response rather than an unconsciously learned association with venomous animals.
Is Trypophobia curable?
While there is no treatment specific to trypophobia, there are treatments for phobias that can help a sufferer. Two of the most effective methods of eliminating a phobia:
- Flooding – a behaviour therapy strategy in which the individual is deliberately exposed to a high-intensity anxiety-producing event or stimulus, either described or genuine, with no attempt to reduce or avoid anxiety or terror throughout the exposure. A person suffering from claustrophobia, for example, may be required to spend extended periods of time in a small room.
- Graded Desensitization – a technique of behavioural therapy based on the classical conditioning. It was created by Wolpe in the 1950s. Using counterconditioning, this therapy tries to progressively replace the terror response of a phobia with a relaxation response to the conditional stimuli.
However, since it is seen by researchers as more of an anxiety condition than a phobia, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and anti-anxiety medications may help.
There is a difference between fear and phobia. Fear is the normal response to danger, while phobias are excessive, unconscious, and persistent fear of a certain situation that constantly triggers anxiety.
Trypophobia may exist without the person knowing it themselves, and only makes its presence as a phobia when exposed to “holey-pattern” images.
Is Trypophobia of skin real?
No, trypophobia of the skin is not a real disease. However, images of clusters of roughly circular shapes may cause goosebumps on the skin, which, again, are clusters of circular shapes.
Goosebumps, or piloerection, are tiny elevations of the skin and standing up of hairs, usually on the arms and legs. Caused by the contraction of tiny muscles at the base of hair follicles, they are mostly temporary.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder and chief editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
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