The term “intensive phobia” was initially proposed in 2005 by an Irish cyber citizen named Louise. “Tryophobia” stems from the dread of apertures, which arises due to specific visual stimuli. When individuals afflicted with profound phobia encounter objects exhibiting intricate aperture structures (particularly when these intricate apertures manifest on human dermis), an indescribable aversion can ensue, potentially triggering symptoms such as migraines. Why does this occur?
In 2009, Professor Arnold Wilkins from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom presented two images during a lecture—one depicted a close-up of a lotus pod, while the other showcased a landscape photograph featuring numerous trees. He aimed to gauge the students’ perception of “apertures” and their associated sensations. As a result, the majority of students exhibited no reaction to the two images, yet one student explicitly expressed intense antipathy towards the lotus pod depiction. Subsequently, Professor Wilkins embarked on an exploration of the reasons behind this “fear of apertures.” Together with his colleague Jeff Cole, he conducted an experiment known as the “showerpod attack.” They recruited 286 adults, ranging from 18 to 55 years of age, comprising 91 males and 195 females. Remarkably, 10 of the male participants and 35 of the female participants reported experiencing disgust upon viewing the lotus photos. Wilkins and Cole hypothesized that the underlying cause of this aversion may extend beyond the apertures themselves.
Wilkins and Cole also undertook an experiment to investigate whether color contrast and pattern density influence individuals’ visual perception. They discovered that apertures were not the primary source of aversion; instead, it was strong color contrast and moderate density that played a pivotal role.
For their study, Wilkins and Cole compiled 76 trypophobic images and 76 images of non-trypophobic apertures. Through a series of meticulous control analyses, they discerned that pictures evoking intense fear reactions exhibited higher contrast, in the spatial frequency mid-range, than the predicted values. Conversely, the control group displayed a trade-off relationship between contrast and spatial frequency. Therefore, Wilkins and Cole posited that visual images characterized by high contrast at mid-range spatial frequencies incite profound fear responses.
One of the participants in the experiment remarked that venomous creatures, such as blue-ringed octopuses, king cobras, Brazilian wandering spiders, and stonefish, evoked similar discomfort akin to trypophobia. The researchers observed that patterns on venomous animals exhibited higher contrast at mid-range spatial frequencies compared to non-venomous animals.
In 2017, psychologist Tom Kupfer from the University of Kent in the UK examined trypophobia from a Darwinian perspective. He postulated that trypophobia constitutes a subconscious instinctual aversion response to disease. To ascertain this viewpoint, Kupfer collaborated with a psychology PhD student from the University of Essex at the time. They recruited 600 participants from the internet, comprising 300 individuals with trypophobia and 300 without. Each group was shown 32 images, with 8 dense patterns related to diseases (e.g., scars caused by smallpox), 8 dense circular patterns unrelated to diseases (e.g., lotus pods, holes in bricks), and 16 images completely unrelated to trypophobia.
The study revealed that disease-related photos elicited discomfort in all subjects, while non-disease-related photos solely induced unease in those with trypophobia. In response to disease-related patterns, many participants reported a sensation of something crawling on their bodies. Some individuals asserted that after viewing these photos, they felt as if their skin was riddled with apertures, to the extent that they involuntarily scratched themselves, even drawing blood.
Considering the findings of this experiment, Tom Kupfer’s team speculated that the discomfort experienced by most participants during the study emanated not from fear but from nausea. This may suggest that intensive phobia in individuals stems from an evolutionary response, ingrained in human beings, which seeks to identify potential dangers promptly, thus facilitating self-preservation and the perpetuation of the species.
Having comprehended the underlying causes of trypophobia, can this knowledge prove beneficial to you and your acquaintances?