healthHealth and Medicine

New Study Casts Light On Why This Photo Freaks You Out So Much


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJan 5 2018, 17:45 UTC

If you hate looking at pictures of clusters of holes, good news! You’re not alone. You apparently have trypophobia, a condition described as the "fear of holes". But according to a new study, it isn't related to fear at all. It's actually an instinctive reaction of disgust.

Publishing their findings in the journal PeerJ, the researchers used a technique called pupillometry, which measures people's reactions by looking at their eyes. The test subjects were made to look at pictures of obvious dangers like snakes and spiders, clusters of holes, and neutral images.


The eye-tracking technique showed that both the holes and the threatening images had an effect on pupil dilation, but it was strongest when the person was looking at a cluster of holes, suggesting that the reaction is not linked to fear but rather associated with the parasympathetic nervous system and the feeling of disgust.

"On the surface, images of threatening animals and clusters of holes both elicit an aversive reaction," lead author Vladislav Ayzenberg, from Emory University, said in a statement. "Our findings, however, suggest that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions are different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties.

"These visual cues signal the body to be cautious, while also closing off the body, as if to limit its exposure to something that could be harmful."


The people involved in the experiment didn’t report suffering from trypophobia, yet the team observed the reaction. Therefore, they suggest that it's a primitive mechanism that's pervasive throughout the population. It's potentially linked to visual cues for rotten or moldy food, or infected skin.

"We're an incredibly visual species," added Ayzenberg. "Low-level visual properties can convey a lot of meaningful information. These visual cues allow us to make immediate inferences – whether we see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake – and react quickly to potential danger."

Trypophobia isn't recognized in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it has gained popularity thanks to the Internet, where people have shared their common repulsion for pictures of holes.

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