Whenever we feel fear, it means we’re up against some kind of wall … on the other side of the wall is some kind of freedom.
—-Leo Babauta, A Guide to Fear Mastery
Does this photograph make you uneasy? Does your skin crawl?
Lookout, you might have Trypophobia… the mysterious “fear of holes”
I first heard of Trypophobia talking to a sculptor that I like and how the small holes in his work sometimes set off fear and revulsion in his wife. He even had a little monster head in a box named “Trypophobia.”
Of course, I had to do some web-searching and research. I discovered that the whole “fear of holes” thing is a product of the internet – a mental disease spread (and maybe caused) by people sharing images that made them uneasy. Sure enough, the more I looked at these things, the more uneasy I felt looking at them. I was acquiring my own fear of holes.
Luckily, I stopped looking and the unease went away.
There is some thought that Trypophobia is different than other phobias. The idea is that there is a natural reason behind the fear, that our ancestors had reasons to avoid animals that appeared this way — clusters of holes may cause fear because they share visual cues with animals or objects that humans learned to avoid as a matter of survival.
Is this true? Is Batman a Transvestite? Who knows.
It’s still sort of interesting, though.
Are You Afraid of Holes
By William Skaggs on March 1, 2014
In the early 2000s many Internet users bonded over their common aversion to pictures that showed clustered arrays of small holes, such as a beehive or even the popped bubbles on the uncooked top of a pancake. For almost a decade “trypophobia,” literally “fear of holes,” was nothing more than an Internet phenomenon, but finally researchers have found evidence of its validity and investigated its possible cause.
The story begins with the growth of online image sharing; soon many people realized they shared a revulsion that could reach the level of nausea to photographs of clusters of holes. The term “trypophobia” appears to have been coined by an unidentified Irish woman in a post on a Web forum in 2005. The idea went viral: self-identified trypophobics formed a Facebook group, created an eponymous Internet domain and posted informational YouTube videos. A Wikipedia article was repeatedly created and repeatedly deleted for lack of reliable sources.
Four years ago two psychologists at the University of Essex in England, Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins, decided to research the phenomenon. They showed a picture of a lotus seed head—anecdotally a potent trigger of the phobia—to 286 adults aged 18 to 55 years old. Eleven percent of men and 18 percent of women described the seed head as “uncomfortable or even repulsive to look at,” indicating a level of revulsion on par with phobia.
Cole and Wilkins theorized that the visual structure of the image causes at least part of the unease. They analyzed a set of aversion-inducing photographs and images of holes that did not trigger trypophobia and found that most of the disagreeable pictures shared an underlying mathematical structure that incorporates small, high-contrast features such as dots or stripes. This spectral pattern is seen in the skin coloration of many species of dangerous or poisonous animals; past studies have found that most people find this pattern uncomfortable to look at. Indeed, a variety of images taken from the Web site trypophobia.com produced discomfort in a group of 20 people who did not have the full-blown phobia.