Does honeycomb upset you? Would Swiss cheese ruin your day? It appears that trypophobia – or fear of holes – is a genuine phenomenon, as shown by the first scientific study of it.
Professor Geoff Cole of Essex University in the U.K. conducted the research, testing reactions to images, and told us that we have a problem.
Metro: Honeycomb is lovely – what’s the problem?
Cole: When a person with trypophobia looks at a trypophobic image, part of the brain tells them to be wary as it makes an association with poisonous animals that have high contrast colors. We took trypophobic images and broke them down into fundamental units and got similar visual signatures.
I actually hate looking at honeycomb. Am I trypophobic?
We say 16 percent of people are but really everyone is affected to some extent – the most common phobia you never heard of. We asked people to rate images as disturbing or not, and even the ones that were not uncomfortable could understand that objects like lotus seed pods are not nice to look at.
How bad does it get?
Pretty bad – we hear people say a bad image can ruin their day. It becomes circular, playing on your mind and getting worse.
Which holes are the worst?
They tend to be 3-4 mm wide and in a cluster, with a dark light outside.
How do you treat it?
Desensitization — like most phobias. Present people with the stimulus inducing fear, and eventually it just subsides.
After doing this study, do you now have an aversion to holes?
The opposite! I knew about this because I was trypophobic at school. Someone drilled a hole in a coin and I was so sick I had to leave. When I moved into brain science I mentioned it to my partner and said I might not be able to do the research. But now I have seen the images so many times I’m not disturbed.