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Are You Terrified of This Image? Scientists Explain Trypophobia

May 26, 2016 06:08 AM EDT
Lotus seeds
Does this image make your skin crawl? Trypophobia is actually not a type of phobia as it is more akin to a feeling of disgust than of fear.
(Photo : Stephen Wheeler / Flickr)

Does this image creep you out? If it does, you are likely experiencing some degree of trypophobia.

Scientists define trypophobia as the "fear of holes," where one becomes intensely upset or uneasy after looking at images of clustered holes or bumps.

However, as researchers dig deeper into this condition, they found that the condition isn't exactly a feeling of fear. The said phobia isn't actually recognized by the psychological community, and therefore, trypophobia isn't exactly diagnosable.

And the fear is not only of holes.

"Tryphobia is more akin to disgust than to fear, and that the disgust is probably an overgeneralization of a reaction to possible contaminants," Arnold Wilkins, a trypophobia researcher from the University of Essex, said in an article published by Tech Insider.

"The disgust arises from clusters of objects, and these objects are not necessarily holes, despite the name trypophobia," he added.

In 2013, Wilkins and his co-researcher Geoff Cole conducted a study based on images posted on They have concluded that it was not the holes that people feared, rather the respondents' brains associate the holes with danger.

However, they are yet to find out what kind of danger the images provoke.

"These can make them feel that their skin is crawling, shudder, feel itchy and physically sick when seeing these images because they really find it disgusting and gross. Some of these people think that something might be living inside those holes and some of them are afraid they might fall in these holes," the researchers explain in a report in CBS News. "It can even trigger panic attacks," they added.

The clustered holes and bumps, however, are very common in nature, such as those of honeycombs or a lotus pod. According to the study, the fear covers "clustered holes in the skin, meat, wood, plants, coral, sponges, mould, dried seed pods and honeycomb."

There are some people who have adapted well to recognize that these images do not elicit danger. But for trypophobes, the uneasiness or negative feeling is an unconscious reflex reaction. 

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