Trypophobia – Why Do Some People Get Uncomfortable Looking At Holes?

Do you get the heebie-jeebies when looking at certain images. Not just any, more specifically, beehives, pockmarked skin, the lotus seed head? Do they make you feel ill? Do you feel breathless? Does your skin start to itch? The truth is, you may be suffering from a condition known as Trypophobia.

Better described as the intense, irrational fear of clusters of bumps or holes, this condition first made airways in 2005. Seeming quite silly at first, it actually is believed to affect up to 20% of the population! Italian computer scientist and musician, Paola Barra describes how she had her first Trypophobic attack when she was just 12 years old. 26 year old Paola described the attack as follows.

“There was an irregular ditch and it was filled with little stones and little holes, and I couldn’t look at it without feeling deep discomfort.”

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She started to realize over time that this was no singular occurrence. Whenever she viewed similar images, she would experience “an incredible itchiness in my fingers”.

Over 8 years, she struggled to come to terms with what she was experiencing. She one day decided to do an internet search for a music genre known as “trip hop” and the search engine threw out the word “trypophobia”. Amazed by what she stumbled upon, she started a Facebook group aiming at informing  people about the condition.

With nearly 6000 followers around the globe, she admits she is “surprised at the success of the page,”  and believes that  “trypophobia is more common than we think”. Followers regularly write to her describing their own experiences and mental responses when seeing trypophobic images.

“The most common annoyances are itching, anxiety, nausea and sometimes vomiting,” she says. Many of her fans are unimpressed as she openly posts images relating to the condition, where “Others have thanked me because I have publicized the existence of trypophobia and previously, they believed themselves to be the only ones [with it],” she says.

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As of yet, Trypophobia is not a recognized medical diagnosis, but it is fast gaining much needed attention. Over the last 40 years, Arnold Wilkins, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex in the UK has been studying the responses people have when introduced to repetitive patterns.

The first patient he studied was in a Canadian in Montreal in the 1970’s. “I was asked to see a patient who had seizures when she looked at striped lines, which at the time was thought to be extremely rare,” he says.

Through his studies, he believes that this condition isn’t that rare, in fact, the negative physical response is very common. “I would say about at least 10 to 20 per cent of the population is affected to some extent by aversive patterns,” Dr Wilkins says.

More recently, PhD student An Trong Dinh Le has been working aside Dr. Wilkins, investigating the condition. Explaining the “Fourier analysis” of adverse patterns, striped or holes both possessing similar mathematical properties. “So although they’re very different patterns, they may be having similar effects on the visual system,” Dr Wilkins says.

He furthermore explains that the discomfort associated causes a greater “oxygenation of the visual part of the brain.” As your brain is in overdrive, it may lead to a visual overload. He also believes that the condition is an actual evolutionary element. “The trypophobic images have the same characteristics as the markings on poisonous animals, there might be some fairly fundamental fear involved in these kind of markings,” he says. Pointing to the striped patterns on wasps and snakes, even human skin lesions may trigger the response in an effort to lead the body to avoid potential harm.shutterstock_240788911

But does trypophobia have a learned element to it?

As Paola describes, Dr. Wilkins says many trypophobics  “can remember a particular instance when it started. And so a phobia built from that initial episode”. The internet has created a “bottom-up medicine” as people are now able to share their symptoms with others. “Trypophobia is just one example of several other symptom clusters that have been recognized by sufferers,” he says.

He does however stress that even though the condition has only recently been brought to light, it has been around for a very long time. “I’ve come across patients who’ve had it all their lives, and these people are in their 60s,” he says.

Paola say’s that she has almost grown immune to the condition as managing her Facebook account forced her to get used to the stimulus. There is however one exception – “The one thing that continues to bother me is the video of the Surinam toad who gives birth out of holes in its back. I want to squeeze it and let out all the little frogs out,” she says.

With thanks to News AU