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Images with irregularly spaced holes, such as pictures of a sponge, are claimed to trigger a response.

Trypophobia[1] (/ˌtrpəˈfbiə/, from the Greek: τρύπα trýpa "hole" and φόβος phóbos "fear") is a term that was coined in 2005.[2] Although it is not recognized in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,[2][3] thousands of people claim to be affected by the phobia which involves the pathological fear, revulsion and disgust by objects with patterns of holes, such as beehives, ant hills and lotus seed heads.[3]


While research on the proposed phobia has been limited due to scepticism on its legitimacy, researchers Arnold Wilkins and Geoff Cole, who claim to be the first to scientifically investigate trypophobia, believe the reaction to be based on a biological revulsion, rather than a learned cultural fear.[3] In a research article they wrote for Psychological Science, Wilkins and Cole discussed that the reaction is based on a brain response that associates the shapes with danger. The type of shapes that elicit a reaction were stated to include clustered holes in skin, meat, wood, plants, coral, sponges, mould, dried seed pods, honeycomb, soap, cheese, soil, plants and even wounds and bubbles and that observing these shapes made some individuals state that they felt that their skin is crawling, shudder, feel itchy, experience panic attacks, sweat, palpitate and feel physically sick. Some stated reasons behind this fear are that the holes seem "disgusting and gross" or that "something might be living inside those holes".[4][5]

Using data and information from, Wilkins and Cole analyzed example images and concluded that the images had "unique characteristics".[6] Wilkins and Cole concluded that the reaction behind the phobia was an "unconscious reflex reaction" based on a "primitive portion of the brain that associates the image with something dangerous".[4][7]


  1. ^ Brown, K. Williams (11 December 2010). "The improbable horror of clusters". Statesman Journal. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Abbasi, Jennifer (July 25, 2011). "Is Trypophobia a Real Phobia?". Popular Science. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Thomas, Gregory (October 1, 2012). "Phobia about holes is not officially recognized, but U.K. scientists look into it". Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Danielle Elliot (September 5, 2013). "Understanding trypophobia: Why some people fear holes". CBS News. Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  5. ^ Rose Eveleth (September 5, 2013). "Trypophobia Is a Fear of Holes". Smithsonian. Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ Joe Palca (September 4, 2013). "The Inside Story On The Fear Of Holes". NPR. Retrieved September 15, 2013. 
  7. ^ Cole, Geoff G.; Wilkins, Arnold J. (2013). "Fear of Holes". Psychological Science (SAGE Publications) 24 (10): 1–6. doi:10.1177/0956797613484937. Retrieved September 15, 2013.