Intensive phobia

“The silt is not stained, and the ripples are clear and not demon.” The famous novel “Ailian Shuo” by Zhou Dunyi, a writer of the Northern Song Dynasty, made many people fall in love with the lotus plant. After the beautiful flowers wither, the lotus pistil hiding the lotus pistil gradually expands after fertilization. There are many honeycomb-shaped holes on the surface of the lotus, and one lotus seed grows in each hole.

However, the dense holes in the lotus plant can make some people feel scared. Usually people call this symptom phobia of dense objects (also known as phobia of dense objects), and its specific manifestation is that patients will feel dizzy, nauseous, and numb when they see densely arranged relatively small objects.

There are many kinds of objects that can cause intensive phobia, including lotus, honeycomb, strawberry, foaming chocolate, pitted wall tiles, squeezed insect eggs, soap bubbles in the basin, and even hanging on the body after taking a shower. The dense small drops of water and so on.

The number of patients with dense phobia is gradually increasing. On the Internet, we can find many pictures that claim to be able to detect and diagnose whether you have dense phobia. However, this method is not accurate and is often misleading. In addition to intensive phobia, dozens of other phobias are known. Such as arachnophobia, which is an extreme or irrational fear of spiders; there are clown phobia, canine phobia and blood phobia (halophobia).

The founder of the Nobel Prize and Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel suffers from a rare phobia of being buried alive. He is very afraid of being buried alive. As a result, he specifically explained in his will that after his death, the doctor asked the doctor to cut his artery, and after confirming his death, he burned his body in the crematorium. The reason why Nobel has such a thought is because medicine was relatively backward in that era, and doctors often couldn’t tell whether the patient was really dead or just fell into a deep coma.

However, intensive phobia is not a term put forward by the medical community. The “Manual of Diagnosis and Statistics of Mental Disorders” published by the American Psychiatric Association is an authoritative guide for diagnosing mental disorders. The manual does not include this term. It is said that this term was coined by a woman suffering from this phobia.

The evolution of fear

Stella Lorenzo, a psychologist at Emory University in the United States, said that one of the confusions about intensive phobia is that the disturbing patterns or pictures are not obviously threatening. Except for individual phobias (such as blood phobias) that seem to be innate, phobias are generally considered to be acquired. For example, some people may become afraid of dogs after being bitten by dogs when they were young. “Once I was bitten by a snake, I was afraid of well ropes for ten years”.

However, it is difficult to understand: How do some apparently harmless scenes and objects trigger this exaggerated fear? For example, some people with intensive phobia are anxious about lotus or aerated chocolate, but these things may never give them a bad experience.

In the 1980s, the psychologist Michael Cook of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues conducted experiments on rhesus monkeys. They found that monkeys raised in the laboratory were not afraid to see pictures of snakes, because they had never seen snakes before, so the pictures had no effect on them. But after watching videos of wild monkeys’ fearful reactions to snakes, these monkeys showed the same reaction when they saw pictures of snakes again. However, when psychologists tried to use the same method to make monkeys in the laboratory fear the flowers, they failed. Psychologists faked videos of wild monkeys making panic expressions when facing a flower, but no matter how many times they watched the video, the monkeys in the laboratory would not react in panic. Unlike being afraid of snakes, evolution has given monkeys no reason to fear harmless flowers.

Roots of intensive phobia

In order to further understand the reasons for fear, Lorenzo showed the volunteers various pictures. Some pictures will trigger intensive phobias, such as sponges and bees; some pictures will cause most people to have a fear response, such as snakes and spiders; and some pictures are neutral controls, such as butterflies and coffee beans. The researchers asked the volunteers how they felt when they saw each picture, and used an eye tracker to measure the size of the volunteers’ pupils to study the unconscious changes in the volunteers’ eyes.

When volunteers see spiders and snakes, their pupils will dilate. This is the body’s stress response called “fight or flight”, when the sympathetic nervous system dilates the pupils. On the contrary, the pictures that are said to cause intensive phobia caused the pupils of volunteers who had not previously been intensive phobia to shrink. This is a hallmark of a reaction called “rest and digestion”, which is driven by a separate parasympathetic nervous system, which causes the muscles around the pupil to contract. The parasympathetic nervous system is not stimulated by external threats, but by aversion.

Therefore, researchers believe that the root cause of intensive phobia is not fear, it is more likely to be triggered by disgust.

Clinical psychologist Anne Schinler of the University of Graz in Austria tested 40 volunteers who self-diagnosed as intensive phobia. Most volunteers reported that when they saw the dense holes, their main emotion was disgust rather than fear. And they also have the urge to destroy these patterns because they look too ugly, which is a typical symptom of phobias.

In many cases, the disgust reaction may be a measure of human self-protection. For example, arachnophobia patients’ aversion to spiders can protect them from some poisonous small reptiles.

If people’s aversion to spiders may have a reasonable or even evolutionary explanation, then where does people’s aversion to holes come from? Even rhesus monkeys don’t panic about flowers. Why are some people afraid of lotus plants? This may be related to the pattern itself.

Arnold Wilkins, a psychologist at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, is an expert in the study of visual stimuli that cause epilepsy and migraine. Wilkins believes that intensive phobia may also be caused by visual stimuli. For example, a mathematical analysis of the contrast between light and dark in a lotus picture can reveal a special visual feature. Specifically, the image that triggers the intensive phobia has high contrast that repeats regularly.

Wilkins proposed that such visual features can make people react disgustingly to everyday objects or non-threatening pictures, because they interact with some of the most toxic animals in the world (including blue-ringed octopus, Brazilian roaming spider, and arrow poison). The patterns and markings on the skin, scales and shell of the frog have the same characteristics. There are two objections to this explanation: First, many poisonous creatures do not have such patterns; in addition, this behavior is rooted in distant evolutionary history and cannot be tested.

Tom Kupfer of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands improved on this view. He said that the aversive response of intensive phobia is not directed at dangerous animals, but at annoying diseases and parasites. Many diseases — leprosy, smallpox, and typhus — produce round or irregular clusters of pustules on the skin. If early humans avoided those with these marks, they would benefit from them. In this way, humans have gradually developed an aversion to certain types of holes and dense objects, because they may bring disease risks.

However, in patients with intensive phobia, this mechanism is exaggerated and overflows to unnecessary overreactions to harmless patterns. The reaction of disgust is more difficult to change than fear. At present, for people suffering from intensive phobia, psychotherapy is still the mainstay.