Fear Of Holes May Have Evolutionary Origins

[ Watch the Video: Watch Out For Holes, You May Have Trypophobia ]

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

While it’s a widely recognized condition online, it has yet to be officially recognized by medical officials. Trypophobia is described by psychologists Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins as the fear of small clusters of holes, such as those seen in pods of lotus flowers, milk foam bubbles on a latte, or the spots on a frog’s back. According to those who report having trypophobia, seeing objects such as sponges or any other object with asymmetrical shapes can leave them with a crawling feeling on their skin. Some even feel as if their pores are expanding and report an uncontrollable itchiness.

Now Cole and Wilkins, both with the University of Essex, say they’ve come one step closer to understanding the fear and, hopefully, to get it officially recognized by the medical community. Their new research was published recently in the journal Association for Psychological Science.

According to Cole, the origin of this unusual phobia may be lodged somewhere in our evolutionary history, causing some to believe that they’re seeing a dangerous creature when they see these clusters. Cole and Wilkins have long been leading the charge in trypophobia research, and a recent meeting with a sufferer lead them to begin looking for an ancient evolutionary response that might explain the condition.

The unnamed sufferer of trypophobia reported having an episode — or a period of uneasiness, queasiness or itchiness — after seeing a picture of a blue-ringed octopus. This cephalopod is one of the most poisonous animals in the world, leading the researchers to wonder if the human brain at some point made a deep-seated evolutionary connection between small holes and poisonous animals.

Cole and Wilkins gathered and analyzed images of other poisonous animals with trypophobic shapes and found that they have the same midrange spatial frequencies as other trypophobic triggers. In other words, pictures of these dangerous creatures could cause some who experience this fear to have similar negative responses to these images as they do images of bubbles in pancake batter.

“We think that everyone has trypophobic tendencies even though they may not be aware of it,” said Cole in a statement discussing their new study. After all, if this reaction is the result of evolutionary conditioning, then it would stand to reason that all humans might have some proclivity towards trypophobic images.

“We found that people who don’t have the phobia still rate trypophobic images as less comfortable to look at than other images.”

Cole has previously claimed as many as 16 percent of the people he’s studied have had negative reactions to typographic images, leading him to refer to the condition as “the most common phobia you’ve never heard of.” A Facebook page dedicated to the condition is filled with people who say they thought they were crazy to have such negative reactions to a collection of holes.

While some report feeling nauseated after seeing asymmetrical images or different shaped holes, some say they have the worst reaction to an image which frequently appears in trypophobia research: A video of baby frogs swimming out of holes in their mother’s back.

Those curious about the condition can take a test online which involves watching a video of increasingly disturbing images. If at any point the viewer has the inclination to itch, they may be having a trypophobic reaction.