Trypophobia, the fear of holes, may not be a real phobia: Study

A honeycomb filled with honey is seen at beekeeper Leonid Baranenko's bee-garden in the village of Mikhaylovka, Belarus, on June 24, 2017.
A honeycomb filled with honey is seen at beekeeper Leonid Baranenko's bee-garden in the village of Mikhaylovka, Belarus, on June 24, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Trypophobia - or the fear of holes - may not be a real phobia after all, a new study has suggested.

The term, which was first coined in 2005 and made its rounds on social media, has quickly become a buzzword online for the adverse reactions some people experience when looking at an image of closely packed holes, such as honeycomb, lotus pods, or sponges.

Some people have reported anxiety upon viewing such images, but the condition is not yet recognised as a medical diagnosis.

And new research by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, shows that it may not be a phobia at all.

While phobias are triggered by the emotion of fear, the study published in the open-access journal PeerJ concludes that trypophobia is more likely driven by disgust instead.

When participants in the study were shown images of both threatening images and photos of holes, researchers found that the size of their pupils changed in different ways.

The participants' pupils dilated when looking at images of snakes and spiders, but in contrast, their pupils constricted when they saw images of the holes.

According to the researchers, the smaller pupil sizes suggest feelings of disgust, rather than fear, which is characterised by larger pupils.

This is because a fearful response involves an increase in overall cardiovascular functions, such as heart rate acceleration, prompting pupil dilation as a result of the perceived danger.

On the other hand, disgust is associated with the opposite - the slowing of heart rate and as a result, smaller pupil size - in response to perceived contamination.