Some people are afraid of public speaking, death, or horror movies. Hell, some people are even afraid of our giant freakin’ robot overlords, but that’s just silly. I can’t say I ever wondered why people harbored a serious fear of holes and clusters, but it’s mostly because I didn’t even know such a fear existed in the first place. Unofficially called “trypophobia,” this fear may have its roots in primal human instincts, if a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science is to be believed. The study was performed by Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins, researchers from the Center for Brain Science at the University of Essex. No word on whether they performed the study from inside a honeycomb or not.
While trypophobia may not be an officially recognized fear around the world, it definitely affects numerous. After visiting the dodgy website Trypophobia.com, Cole and Wilkins took it upon themselves to analyze some of the website’s imagery to figure out what it was that makes people so fearful.
“You can take any image and break it down into its core fundamental components meaningful to the visual system,” Cole told NPR. “This would be things like luminance, contrast, wavelength, or light.” They found that images that provoke phobic reactions were unique in their contrast and fine details. Watch the video below to see if you’re one of those afflicted. Good luck.
Cole interviewed a hole-fearer who told him he would have an adverse reaction any time he looked at a blue-ringed octopus. (How many times can someone look at a blue-ringed octopus in a day, seriously?) Once he learned that particular octopus was venomous, Cole found images of other venomous animals, and when he showed them to the trypophobe, it caused the same response. He then analyzed the images to find that they shared the same characteristics as those on the trypophobia website.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “What the hell is all this about?” Well, Cole believes that images with hole clusters on them can stimulate the part of a person’s brain that associates images with danger. He calls it an unconscious reflex that happens before the rational part of the brain can say there’s nothing wrong. Thus, he thinks its an evolutionary leftover from a time when venomous animals were more of an issue.
Admittedly, this seems like a weak assessment, but I’m not a professional. I can imagine being a prehistoric male finding and freaking out over a dirt mound full of holes and tunnels, signifying an animal that could potentially destroy me. Personally, however, I’m intrigued by holes. And I think this cartoon had a lot to do with it.