The Loh Down On Science

This is the strangest phobia you've never heard of!

University of Essex

Dr. Geoff Coles, pictured with a fear-inducing image.

Pop quiz!  Trypophobia—what is it?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science.

Trypophobia is the fear of holes—clusters of holes.  An estimated 16 percent of people experience it!

Most react mildly.  But a few people see soap bubbles, even aerated chocolate, and panic!

Really?  From bubbles?

British psychologist Geoff Cole studies visual cognition.  Cole ran images of hole-cluster object through scanning software, along with control images.

And here’s the whole truth:  trypophobia-inducing objects had higher contrast areas than the controls.  

Still—why the panic?

Well, one trypophia sufferer mentioned that he’d had the same reaction when he saw a blue-ringed octopus.  A poisonous creature!

So Cole ran another scan.  This time comparing images of hole clusters to poisonous animals.  Blue-ringed octopi, cobras, venomous spiders.

And?  Identical high contrast!

Cole says trypophobia likely has evolutionary roots.  Hole clusters share visual features with critters that can kill us, and our brains don’t know the difference.

So next bathtime—relax!  There’s not an octopus in sight.  At least, none you can see above the frothy bubbles!  Ahhhh!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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