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New Study Casts Light On Why This Photo Freaks You Out So Much


Some people dislike looking at pictures of clusters of holes. Obviously they have kind of trypophobia, a condition described as the “fear of holes”. However, based on a latest study, it is not linked with fear at all, in fact it is rather an instinctive reaction of disgust.

Releasing their discovery in the journal of PeerJ, the scientists used a technique known as pupillometry, which could make measurement of people’s reactions by looking at their eyes. The test subjects were asked to look at pictures of obvious dangers such as snakes and spiders, clusters of holes, and neutral images.

The eye-tracking technique demonstrated that the holes as well as the threatening images had an impact on pupil dilation, however it turned to be strongest when the person was looking at a cluster of holes, implying that the reaction is not related to fear but rather linked with the parasympathetic nervous system and the feeling of disgust.

As Vladislav Ayzenberg, lead author from Emory University, said, on the surface, images of both threatening animals and clusters of holes induced an aversive reaction, but their discovery showed that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions were different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties. These visual cues signal the body to be careful, while also closing off the body, as if to limit its exposure to something that could turn disastrous.

Although the test subjects in the experiment didn’t report suffering from trypophobia, the team did observe the reaction. Therefore, the researchers suggest that it’s a primitive mechanism that is quite popular among people. It’s potentially related to visual cues for rotten or moldy food, or infected skin.

In Ayzenberg’s words, humankind is an incredibly visual species. Low-level visual properties could relay a great deal of meaningful information. These visual cues allow people to conclude immediate inferences – whether they see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake – and response rapidly to potential danger.

Trypophobia isn’t recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, however it has become more popular because of the Internet, where people have shared their common repulsion for pictures of holes.

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