If you're like me and you have a visceral reaction to the image above—if it makes your skin crawl, your hair hurt, and your stomach turn—you can count yourself among the trypophobic. According to its Facebook page, which is more than 4,000 members strong, trypophobia is fear of clustered holes. It is usually small holes in organic objects, such as lotus seed heads or bubbles in batter, that give trypophobics the extreme willies, triggering reactions like itchy skin, nausea and a general feeling of discomfort. (A picture of a candy bar with a pattern of small air bubbles did me in. Goodbye, dear chocolate. For now.)Click here to see some photos that may trigger your latent trypophobia.
My editor tasked me with investigating what causes this bizarre and irrational fear, which I had never heard of before.
It turns out that I'm not alone. I contacted roughly 10 psychologists for this story, and of those who got back to me, none had heard of it. The evolutionary psychologists I emailed were unwilling to speculate on the potential biological underpinnings for a fear of small, clustered holes. Trypophobia is not an official phobia recognized in scientific literature. For many (though perhaps not all) who have it, it's probably not even a real phobia, which the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders says must interfere "significantly with the person's normal routine." Having just looked at a bunch of holey pictures and videos, I'm severely grossed out, but I can still write this story.
Although this may be of no comfort to those who suffer from it, trypophobia is simply one of an infinite number of fears that people experience, some more idiosyncratic than others. The online Phobia List, run by an amateur etymologist, contains the names of hundreds of fears, from the well-known (fear of heights: acrophobia) to the fringe (fear of the great mole rat: zemmiphobia). Trypophobia hasn't made the list yet.
According to Martin Antony, a psychologist at Ryerson University in Toronto, past-president of the Canadian Psychological Association and author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook, with the exception of a few terms (agoraphobia, claustrophobia and arachnophobia among them), professionals who study and treat phobias tend not to use all the Latin and Greek names that get tossed around on message boards and in the press.
Antony wasn't surprised to hear that some people have an intense aversion to clustered holes because "people can be afraid of absolutely anything." The factors that contribute to fears and phobias include traumatic experiences (getting bitten by a dog leading to a fear of dogs, for example), observational learning (watching others be afraid of heights), information and instruction (learning to fear being alone in the dark after watching too many horror movies), and various biological factors (like an inherited predisposition to anxiety). "Although the studies on causes of fears have all focused on more common ones, such as spiders and snakes, there is no reason to think that different factors would be responsible for more unusual fears, Antony says.
Trypophobia may also be catching. An element of so-called emotional contagion seems to be at work on Facebook, where some group members say they didn't realize they were trypophobic until they started reading others' comments and clicking on the pictures. "It's not unusual to laugh harder at a funny movie if others around you are laughing," Antony explains. "In the same way, we may be more likely to experience fear in a particular moment if others around us are fearful." For me, however, all it took was a verbal mention of a "fear of small holes" to illicit a shudder. I became disgusted before looking at a single gnarly image of a skin graft or lamprey eel (look 'em up) or reading an online comment. I also immediately assumed that we were talking about biologic objects—holes in wood, in particular. Clearly, in me the fear was preexisting.
One trypophobic reported on Facebook that her fear stems back to childhood, when she had a Renaissance Faire dagger with a handle covered in little holes. Another member wrote: "I was stung by a bee in high school on my outer thigh. I had an allergic reaction, and my skin started to swell. The swelling was so bad, I could see each individual pore on my leg and I freaked out. Since then, I have not been able to look at clusters of holes without getting the heebie-jeebies." Just. Gross.
Fear and disgust often go hand in hand, Antony says. "Evolutionarily speaking, almost all of the things that arouse a strong disgust-reaction--spiders, mice, blood, vomit--are things that could have been triggers for fear of illness." Perhaps the same could be true for little holes, especially in natural objects where they seem particularly out of place. I suspect that we're disgusted by pockmarked objects because they don't look quite "right"; these perceived deformities signal danger, which we manifest as revulsion. But then again, a fear of asymmetry (another form of things looking not quite right) in some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder is not associated with disgust, Antony says. Perhaps holes, particularly in organic objects, subconsciously remind us of the symptoms of contagious illnesses that affect the skin, such as the rash or blisters associated with measles and chicken pox, respectively. All of this, of course, is speculation, and just goes to show how little we know about trypophobia.
Masai Andrews hopes that will change. Andrews, who runs Trypophobia.com, founded the Facebook group page in 2009 when he was a sociology minor at SUNY-Albany. "I started the website and Facebook page because I suspected this was a very common phobia and I wanted a place where people could compile information," Andrews says. "It is my hope that one day the academic and scientific communities will, at the very least, acknowledge the aversion to holes and certain patterns."
When that happens, a Wikipedia page dedicated to the fear should follow. Surprisingly, one doesn't exist today. "I can barely keep a page up on the subject without it getting taken down," Andrews says. In March 2009 the powers that be at Wikipedia determined trypophobia to be a "likely hoax and borderline patent nonsense." The deletion page also says that Wikipedia is "not for things made up one day." As for who actually made the word up, that distinction probably belongs to a blogger in Ireland named Louise, Andrews says. According to an archived Geocities page, Louise settled on "trypophobia" (Greek for "boring holes" + "fear") after corresponding with a representative at the Oxford English Dictionary. Louise, Andrews and trypophobia Facebook group members have petitioned the dictionary to include the word. The term will need to be used for years and have multiple petitions and scholarly references before the dictionary accepts it, Andrews says. I, for one, would prefer to forget about it forever.
Want to find out if you're trypophobic? Take this quick visual test. But beware: You may be skipping lunch today.
Thank you Jennifer Abbasi.
I like the idea that a name is attached to the symptoms I experience. I may not be able to sleep tonight without having creepy dreams after looking at "most" of the video, but at least I now know that I am not alone. Now when I get the heebie jeebies I will think of you.
As a member of the fb group may I add that it isn't just holes but also clusters of bumps, layers, cracks and other such uneven surfaces. Uuurgh >.<
the parts with the toads being born from the skin on their parent's back is disgusting. nothing else grossed me out. just that. who isn't? hurblublluublllbbbhurrguhrhg!!! sorry, still feeling nauseous.
These pictures seem reminiscent of parasites and or some time of disease. I can see how a human instinctive reaction would be avoidance or discust.
i agree i was fine with everything except the toads.
I didn't itch at all during the video, but I got extremely nauseous. The only situation before this that I really noticed a strange feeling was with lotus pods. However, I have always had the compulsion to get rid of the holes. If it was a lotus pod, I would break it so no cavity was a complete hole. I would smear every hole in pancake batter with a toothpick while cooking. I would crush the honeycomb, etc. Those Surinam toads are a new level of gross though!
This photo really freaked me out when I saw it for the first time: www.snopes.com/photos/medical/breastrash.asp
It makes intuitive sense to me that we should be repulsed by the sight of parasites that are capable of burrowing into us.
Wow interesting article.
I think the video has a small flaw. The footage of the tad poles hatching from its mom's back elicited a itchy reaction from virtually everyone I showed it too. I suspect that its because that's just creepy and alien no matter who see's it. The remainder of the images did nothing.
Don't take life to seriously! You'll never get out of it alive.
Those toads always give me the creeps, the ONLY other thing that even got close was the girl at the end of the video with the lotus pod like holes in her arms. Even then it wasn't as strong as the toads.
That last image of the girl isn't real. I've seen it before. Its a photoshop image where the creater crosses the image of a person with lotus blossoms to make it look like something has burrowed into them. There are parasites that will burrow into you but i've never seen them leave marks like that.
I am open-minded and don't think normal things are nasty. I can watch surgery and see other nasty things that most people would probably cringe from.
This is not just because it's "nasty", I seriously am disturbed by the cluster of holes, particularly when something is in them too. The three pictures that disturbed me the most was the first plant, the toad, and the chocolate! It makes my body feel so strange thinking of it!
I have really bad OCD though, it may be linked to that, but it should be looked in to! I'm surprised psychologists turned down the offer to look into a biological explanation...If I were a psychologist I would have. I find these strange things interesting.
Wasn't this first green plant in the article, also in a Star Trek series show. Where the thing shot needles in the air and face of the onlooker! Hmmmm, creepy!
So why is that strawberry white?
I was not really itchy but 47:71 made me so nauseated and I am so disturbed. It is so gross I feel so uncomfortable watching that. I feel like crying.
That test is torture! I never get itchy, my whole body just feels uneasy, especially my stomach. But not a nausea, it's kind of unexplainable, it's so freaky! I hate typophobia!
I definitely was creeped out by the photo at the top of this page, and didn't watch the video for fear of increasing icky feelings. It's not something I've noticed before, but it's hard to ignore a high-res image like that glaring at you. It gives me the same feeling I get when I suddenly see a spider moving in my peripheral vision; I nearly jump out of my skin and feel just completely gross all over, concentrated in my abdomen (I then have to hunt said spider down and kill it lest it get out of my sight only to crawl all over my face as I'm sleeping). It's this feeling that I want to run / explode into a million pieces at the same time.
I think what's fueling the nay-sayers is that there is a general disbelief surrounding phobias in general; people without phobias find it hard to believe that anyone could be afraid of everyday objects or situations in which they find themselves all the time without second thoughts. And so for some to have a "fear" of "clustered holes" does sound a bit ridiculous, but it is an undeniable feeling of disgust that I can't shake.
For me, I would probably connect it to the resemblance of clusters of spiders' eyes (which I can't look at while watching an HD nature program on a huge freaking TV); I always have to cover my eyes or look away. For some people it might be connected to the skin because of previous experience (the example with the bee sting is a good one). But for me it's bugs. Ick.
I have Phobophobia, that is fear of your phobias.
FYI the white strawberry is a cultivated hybrid of a traditional strawberry and a Pineberry. I believe they are of south american origin.
Hole-filled things always struck me as "kind of weird", but I never had a disgust or fear reaction from them. I mean, as mentioned, frogs living inside holes on another frog's back are just creepy, but it's the concept, not the holes.
The closest I've come to typrophobia is looking at the bottom of octopus/squid tentacles. Those suckers give me the strongest "ew" response of any of these things, but I'd still LOVE to have a pet octopus xD .
-IMP ;) :)
HAHA! I thought I was alone! LOL, every time I see something with "cluster holes" as you call them, it'd freak me out and make the back of my neck tingle. When I asked some friends if this happens to them too they'd look at me like I was off my damn rocker. But I don't think I have it as bad as you do. I can look at these pictures (I didn't look through all of them mind you lol) and it isn't so bad, but every once in a while it'll really get me... (Yes, my username is SpongeBrain. Yes, that is ironic. I wasn't thinking about an actual sponge at the time... but now I am and I might have to change it. Yuck!) It's the sight that really gets ya.
Before this article I was fine. Now I am creeped out. Thanks a lot!!
That video is absurd. First of all, are there any circumstances where you can sit in a fixed position for over two minutes after being specifically told to be aware of itchiness, and not feel itchy? They could show pictures of frolicking kittens and you would feel the need to itch.
Second, the choice of images has little or nothing to do with the fear of holes. A real test would use pictures that are innocuous except for the feature to be tested. Holes don't bother me. Fingernails that have rotted away are certainly uncomfortable. Creatures crawling up through the skin of course are creepy, especially when depicted coming out of humans. What does that have to do with a fear of holes? This is like showing people Hitchcock's "The Birds" and then asking if they have a reaction to flocks of birds. Of course they do.
If you establish an association between an innocuous feature (the neutral stimulus) and a feature that elicits a reaction (the unconditional stimulus), the innocuous feature will elicit the response. That's not about testing for a phobia, that's about conditioning and the new response is called a conditional stimulus. Just the same way that Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond (salivating) to a bell by presenting it in conjunction with food. Here the conditioning method is used to deceive people into thinking that they have a phobia of something completely innocuous.
What a bunch of wierdos. I find the lotus pod fascinating.
No creepy feelings or itching on me.
My first thought was a paper wasp's nest. The pattern of holes similar to a bee's honeycomb. Those patterns are symeritical; they are more uniform. The ones I recall that are not symmetrical are CANCER!
I've always thought I was weird for being absolutely disgusted and overwhelmed with an itchy/sharp tingles in my body EVERYWHERE. I want to cut off my freakin skin after seeing that finger, THAT FINGER WTF IS THAT EVEN A FINGER WITH NASTY, oh my gawd im starting to itch even more now just thinking about it again. But yeah, I was "alright" up to the point of the finger and the girl with the holes on her skin, after that it was over. GG and it still is over for me, ahhhhhh i wanna tear off my skin now!!! @#%#$%#$^#%@#@# I'm traumatized, i need to smoke some weed.
The honeycomb did it for me. I have had this bad feeling about things like honeycombs from a very young age. Has anyone seen the skin of a Jackfruit? Whoa!! you dont want to!!
I think parts of this video--involving nature photography of plants enhanced with CG effects--might be enough to trigger trypophobia even in people who don't have it normally:
I associate those types of holes with Bees, Ants, and spiders, all of which can cause extreme pain up to death in humans.
I also associate those structures with caves, because to a bug those structures are caves and each of them could potentially contain a dangerous insect.
Fear of clustered holes... Uh, sorry but that made me laugh. I wonder what they imagine seeing in them to make them afraid.
To answer the question, "is trypophobia a real phobia?” I say yes. It’s a phobia, only if it causes unreasonable and uncontrollable behavior in the individual. Simply a feeling of disgust or yuck don't make it a phobia. This would be a controlled conscious reaction.
A phobia, on the other hand, is a subconscious reaction to an event in which the subconscious mind associates to an event in the past. The past event only needs to have things in it that appear the same. Colors, shapes, smells, noises, and even words can trigger and stimulate a past subconscious event. Once triggered, the subconscious mind takes over and controls your behavior. Your behavior is now determined by how strong and how many past events have been triggered. Your reaction can be as mild as breaking a sweat or becoming nauseous to extreme fear and paralysis or fainting. In severe cases, the person is unconscious and it is almost impossible to communicate with him.
Actually, the complete spectrum of mental illness operates this way.