Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Common phobia you have never heard of: Fear of holes may stem from evolutionary survival response

Date:
September 3, 2013
Source:
University of Essex
Summary:
Does the sight ofsoap bubbles, aerated chocolate or a lotus flower seed pod bring you out in a cold sweat and make you feel panicky? If so, you could be a sufferer of one of the most common phobias you have never heard of -- trypophobia, or the fear of holes.

Soap bubbles. Does the sight of soap bubbles, aerated chocolate or a lotus flower seed pod bring you out in a cold sweat and make you feel panicky? If so, you could be a sufferer of one of the most common phobias you have never heard of – trypophobia, or the fear of holes.
Credit: Vera Kuttelvaserova / Fotolia

Does the sight of soap bubbles, aerated chocolate or a lotus flower seed pod bring you out in a cold sweat and make you feel panicky? If so, you could be a sufferer of one of the most common phobias you have never heard of -- trypophobia, or the fear of holes.

For trypophobes, the sight of clusters of holes in various formations can cause intensely unpleasant reactions -- from serious migraines and panic attacks to hot sweats and increased heart rate.

New research by visual science experts Dr Geoff Cole and Professor Arnold Wilkins from the University of Essex suggests that trypophobia may occur as a result of a specific visual feature also found among various poisonous animals. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"These findings suggest that there may be an ancient evolutionary part of the brain telling people that they are looking at a poisonous animal," explained Dr Cole.

Although trypophobia has been widely documented by sufferers on the internet, it is still hardly known about and was only recently accepted by Wikipedia, who thought it was a hoax entry.

In one study, the Essex research team found that 16 per cent of participants reported trypophobic reactions. Despite this, there has been little scientific investigation of the phenomenon, leading Dr Cole to refer to trypophobia -- which he suffered from himself -- as "the most common phobia you have never heard of."

The research involved establishing if there was a specific visual feature common to trypophobic objects. They compared 76 images of trypophobic objects (obtained from a trypophobia website) with 76 control images of holes not associated with trypophobia. After standardising various features of the images, the researchers found that the trypophobic objects had relatively high contrast energy at midrange spatial frequencies in comparison to the control images. They had the same visual structure as stripes, which also cause migraines for some people.

The scientists then wanted to find out why this unique visual feature led to such aversive reactions. One trypophobia sufferer provided Dr Cole with a clue -- he had seen an animal that caused him to experience a trypophobic reaction.

The animal in question, the blue-ringed octopus, is one of the most poisonous animals in the world, which led Dr Cole to a "bit of a Eureka moment."

He and Professor Wilkins analysed images of various poisonous animals -- including the blue-ringed octopus, deathstalker scorpion, king cobra snake, and other poisonous snakes and spiders and found that they, too, tended to have relatively high contrast at midrange spatial frequencies.

The researchers at Essex concluded that trypophobia may have an evolutionary basis -- clusters of holes may be aversive because they happen to share a visual feature with animals that humans have learned to avoid as a matter of survival.

"We think that everyone has trypophobic tendencies even though they may not be aware of it," said Dr Cole. "We found that people who don't have the phobia still rate trypophobic images as less comfortable to look at than other images. It backs up the theory that we are set-up to be fearful of things which hurt us in our evolutionary past. We have an innate predisposition to be wary of things that can harm us."

As for a cure for trypophobia, Dr Cole suggests what worked with him -- he looked at the images so often he became desensitised to them.

In further research, the team from Essex are now exploring whether manipulating the spectral characteristics of images of everyday objects, like watches, leads people to prefer one object over another. They believe these experiments will shed light on just how ingrained trypophobic tendencies might be.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Essex. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. G. Cole, A. J. Wilkins. Fear of Holes. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797613484937

Cite This Page:

University of Essex. "Common phobia you have never heard of: Fear of holes may stem from evolutionary survival response." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903091036.htm>.
University of Essex. (2013, September 3). Common phobia you have never heard of: Fear of holes may stem from evolutionary survival response. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903091036.htm
University of Essex. "Common phobia you have never heard of: Fear of holes may stem from evolutionary survival response." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903091036.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) Researchers found an improvement in memory and learning function in subjects who received electric pulses to their brains. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins