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Trypophobia

Trypophobia is a fear of objects with small holes.

a close-up image of a laundry basket

Photo: sogni_hal (Flick)

For people with trypophobia, this image of a laundry basket could be disgusting.

Have you ever heard of trypophobia? It’s the experience of intense disgust some people feel when they see clusters of small holes or bumps.

Scientists think they have an explanation for why some people have trypophobia. A group of researchers proposed that the phobia may be an extreme reaction that has an evolutionary history in anxiety about parasites and infectious diseases, since a lot of diseases result in clusters of round shapes on the skin.

Like Sponges Or Tiny Holes Drilled Into A Wall

To test the idea, they gathered a group of three hundred people with an aversion to clusters of small holes, or trypophobia, and a control group of three hundred people without trypophobia, and showed each group a series of photos of clusters.

Half of the photos depicted clusters related to disease, such as smallpox scars on a body, or a cluster of ticks, and the other photos were of clusters unrelated to disease, such as small holes drilled in a wall.

Both groups reported finding the disease‑related pictures disgusting, while only the trypophobic group was disturbed by both types of images.

Disgust Rather Than Fear

The majority of the trypophobic participants also specifically reported feeling disgust, rather than fear, and previous research has shown that the emotion of disgust serves to help people avoid disease.

These finding imply that the brains of people with trypophobia may overgeneralize a natural disgust reaction to disease‑related objects to other visually similar objects.

Thank you to Robert Goldstone of Indiana University for reviewing this episode’s script.

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