Who's afraid of the tiny holes? If you have an aversion to Aero bars, you may have trypophobia

According to a pioneering study, lots of us have this debilitating fear, which even has its own name...

If the photo of the seedhead of a lotus flower makes your skin crawl, you may well have a phobia about holes.

Researchers have discovered that a substantial minority of Britons suffer from trypophobia, the largely unstudied fear of clusters of tiny holes. The sight of these small, irregularly or asymmetrically placed holes can make people sick, itch, shake and even cry, according to the results of the first academic study into the phenomenon.

Although the phobia is thought to be a relic of an evolutionary survival mechanism that associates such patterns with dangerous animals, the researchers noted that some people have an aversion to obviously innocuous holes – such as those formed by soap bubbles or found in aerated chocolate, like Aero bars.

"It is quite extraordinary that images of something as innocuous as the bubbles in a bar of chocolate can bring about this level of aversion," said psychologists Dr Geoff Cole and Professor Arnold Wilkins of Essex University, whose interest was sparked when a colleague reported having the phobia.

"We have found that significant numbers of people are affected, and that others, who would not be classed as having a phobia, have a dislike of those same images. That supports our theory that it is an evolutionary defence mechanism. For many people trypophobia affects their everyday lives and can be quite debilitating."

In the study, researchers carried out a number of experiments with different images to estimate the prevalence of trypophobia. They exposed 300 men and women aged 18 to 55 to an image of the seedhead of the lotus flower. It was chosen because it was found to be the most often reported trigger for the phobia.

Results show that 18 per cent of the women and 11 per cent of the men had an aversion to the image; they found it uncomfortable or repulsive.

The researchers also examined images of potentially dangerous animals and showed that they too could be trypophobic. The blue-ringed octopus, box jellyfish, the Brazilian wandering spider, death stalker scorpion, inland Taipan snake, king cobra, marbled cone snail, poison dart frog, puffer fish and the stone fish all possess a pattern or body shape similar to that in the trypophobic images.

The researchers suggest that during evolution, specific patterns became a rapid identifying feature for danger, in the form of poisonous animals. While many people feel uncomfortable looking at these images, those with a phobia have an exaggerated response. "We argue that trypophobia arises because the images and objects share a simple visual property with potentially dangerous objects," the researchers say.

"We have found that images responsible for a previously undescribed but relatively common form of visual phobia possess a property characteristic of images that are generally uncomfortable to view. Importantly, we have also found that images of animals well known to be dangerous also possess this visual property.

"We therefore suggest that trypophobia arises because the inducing stimuli share a core spectral feature with such organisms. This feature does not reach conscious awareness, but it induces aversion because of the survival value of such aversion."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam