The Fear of Holes

Do you know someone who has a fear of holes just looking at Cheerios, Swiss cheese, or Aero chocolate bars?  If so, you may have already heard about a phobia called trypophobia.

aero chocolate barAs reported by NPR, 16 per cent of the 286 adults who participated in a recent study reacted with anxiety and revulsion to images of clusters of holes. The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Study authors Geoff G. Cole and Arnold J. Wilkins at the Centre for Brain Science, University of Essex state, “We argue that although sufferers are not conscious of the association, the phobia arises in part because the inducing stimuli share basic visual characteristics with dangerous organisms, characteristics that are low level and easily computed, and therefore facilitate a rapid nonconscious response.”

In other words, these researchers suggest that there may be an evolutionary basis at work that produces a fear response, similar to the response caused by images of dangerous animals like leopards, king cobra snakes or blue-ringed octopuses that display visual markings with “high contrast energy at midrange spatial frequencies.” In the study, even people who are not trypophobes reacted more negatively to images of patterns displayed by dangerous animals.

While it might be difficult to understand how Swiss cheese could freak someone out, this fear certainly causes distress for those who suffer. On the Facebook page for, one woman shares her fear of garlic, “But I roast garlic a lot for cooking. And I have to cut the bottom off the garlic bulb exposing all the little garlic cloves inside to roast it. And man, it gives me the heebie freakin jeebies every time. Anybody else have that experience?”

I’ve never known anyone yet who has trypophobia and I’m skeptical that the 16 percent figure is a bit high compared to the average prevalence of phobias running around 9 per cent, and phobias for snakes and spiders affect about 3-6 per cent.

Coincidentally, this study was published a couple of weeks before the new iPhone 5 models were hitting the market. I’ll bet that trypophobes who buy the new iPhone 5C will take a pass on the new case, which has holes on the backside.


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