Trypophobia: The Mysterious Holes-In-Hand Phobia

The moment you see them, your skin crawls into gooseflesh and your hairs stand on end. You quickly turn away, queasy, never wanting to look back at those holes in hand.

Some believe that almost all of us have trypophobia, but we don’t come to know until we test it. How can you tell if you are one of those to have this bizarre phobia?

By the way, do you know what’s autophobia?

Trypophobia Meaning:

Trypophobia is an irrational fear of small holes occurring in clusters, like a beehive, or shapes resembling holes, like bubble wrap. According to research, trypophobics are afraid of clustered holes rather than individual holes. Seeing or even imagining a pattern of holes-clusters on a human body part, such as a hand, can cause intense disgust.

Also called holes in hand phobia, it is the instant fear caused by small sunken holes in someone’s palm, sitting tightly next to each other.

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).

Volcanic lava pumice stone with closely packed holes

Scientists describe trypophobia as a fear of images with high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies, such as holes and repetitive patterns (Martinez-Aguayo, 2018).

  • 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 reported 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.

Trypophobia manifests as either fear or disgust, or both. Disgust is frequently the dominant emotion in trypophobia.

How To Find Out If You Have Trypophobia (Holes In Hand Phobia)

You only need to look at a picture of holes sitting together to find out if you have trypophobia.

We won’t show you the skin-crawling photos of makeup-created holes in the hand right away. Go through this post first, and then watch the video grab at the end of this article.

To harmlessly test for trypophobia, a person may only need exposure to an image of clustered holes. The “fear response” (phobic reaction) in a trypophobic 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 may get immediately and intensely triggered by pictures of clustered, punched-out holes on human skin. People usually create these by make-up trickery.

  • 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.

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 that the fear is caused by hole clusters that look similar to ectoparasites and skin-transmitted pathogens.
  • Yamada and Sasaki (2017) suggested that 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 more than that by 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.

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.

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:

  1. Flooding – a behavior 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.
  2. Graded Desensitization – a technique of behavioral therapy based on 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.

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.

Warning: The next section (3 paragraphs below) contains an image that may trigger your trypophobia.

If you feel you may be triggered, check out his post instead, especially if you’re a people-pleaser and find it hard to say “No” to your colleagues, friends, or family. Find out how to say “No” without feeling guilty, or being rude.

Final Words

Trypophobia may exist without the person knowing it themselves, and only makes its presence as a phobia when exposed to “holey-pattern” images.

Trypophobia hand

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Author Bio: Written and researched by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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