What Is Trypophobia? And Is It Real?

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iStock

When I look at the above photo of a harmless lotus seed head, the skin on my neck crawls, my heart flutters, my shoulders tighten, and I shiver, breaking out in goosebumps. It makes me want to curl up in a ball under my desk and quietly weep. 

What provokes this intense visceral reaction? Holes. Specifically, clusters of holes. Take a look at this utterly innocent picture of milk boiling in a pot, which made me yelp and nearly leap out of my chair:

Image Credit: CWM93 via Imgur

Am I crazy? Maybe, but not because I have a strong revulsion to clusters of holes and sometimes bumps. Instead, I have what is colloquially known as trypophobia. This isn't an officially recognized phobia; you won't find it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But you will find it all over the Internet, and as we all know, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.

The term trypophobia is rumored to have been coined in 2005 by an anonymous Irish woman in a Web forum who clearly tapped into a zeitgeist of GAH! The term's use online really took off around 2009, especially in the Philippines. Today you can find countless examples of people sharing photos of holes that deeply rattle them. While many, like the lotus seed pod and boiling milk, are au naturel shots of real, mostly innocuous objects, others are poorly photoshopped yet nevertheless appalling pictures of cluster holes superimposed mostly on human bodies—especially faces. (Click here at your peril.)

Many images of holes, singular or clustered, trigger people for understandable reasons: They depict severe injuries that require treatments like skin grafts; the flesh-violating impact of parasites like bot flies and worms; or the frightening ravages of disease. (Then there is the frankly horrifying, pregnant suriname toad, whose entire back is pockmarked with holes filled by babies, which at birth punch through her skin and leap from her back as toadlets. Thanks, evolution.)

It makes sense to have a healthy fear of things that can endanger us. But why fall to pieces over pancake batter?

Or cry about cantaloupe?

Or get creeped out by coral?

The little research done into trypophobia suggests it's an instinctual fear of harm from legitimately dangerous things that's been transferred to harmless objects. As they reported in the journal Psychological Science, Geoff Cole and Allen Wilkins, two researchers at the Centre for Brain Science at the University of Essex, performed a spectral analysis on 76 images that induce trypophobia (pulled from trypophobia.com), and compared them to 76 control images of holes that didn't trigger a revulsed response. They found that the triggering images shared a typical spectral composition: high-contrast colors in a particular spatial distribution.

They say plenty of dangerous animals share this look. "We argue that although sufferers are not conscious of the association, the phobia arises in part because the inducing stimuli share basic visual characteristics with dangerous organisms," they wrote. Consider the blue-ringed octopus, which is deadly venomous:

iStock

In the same study, the researchers showed a picture of a lotus seed head (ugh) to 91 men and 195 women aged 18 to 55 years; 11 percent of the men and 18 percent of women described the seed head as “uncomfortable or even repulsive to look at.” 

Others are doubtful that trypophobia is anything more than a combination of anxiety, priming, and conditioning, as psychiatrist and anxiety disorder specialist Carol Mathews explained to NPR. But more recent research by the Essex scientists, in which they developed and tested a trypophobia questionnaire, suggests that trypophobic reactions are not correlated with anxiety.

Not all images that give people the trypophobic heebie jeebies are organic. Soap bubbles are a common trigger, as are holes in rocks. Here is some aluminum metal foam to fuel your nightmares. Enjoy!

Image Credit: Metalfoam, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Shocker: This Electric Eel Delivers More Voltage Than Any Creature on Earth

stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images
stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images

Eels are proving to be more slippery than previously believed. A newly identified species of these skinny fish (yes, eels are really fish) delivers more electric voltage than any other creature on the planet.

All species in their taxonomic order (Gymnotiformes) are capable of producing a modest electrical field to help them navigate, a perk that compensates for their poor vision. But electric eels (in the genus Electrophorus) pack a far more potent punch. They bear three organs full of cells that can produce electricity on demand. The cells act as a defense mechanism and can effectively taser prey into submission.

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers collected more than 100 electric eels in the Amazon region and analyzed their DNA, voltage, and habitat. To their surprise, they found that the single known species of electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, was actually three distinct species. They gave the two new ones the very heavy metal names of E. varii and E. voltai. The latter (named for Alessandro Volta, who invented the electric battery) produced the strongest shock: 860 volts, topping the previous record of 650 volts.

Why the varying strength? The researchers suggested that some eels occupy water with low salt content, and therefore reduced conductivity. A stronger charge may be needed to deliver an effective jolt.

While those numbers sound formidable, their low current means a shock wouldn’t necessarily be harmful to a human. Voltage is the measure of pressure of the flow of electrons; current, or amperage, is the volume of electrons. Eels have high voltage but low current; household power outlets have lower voltage but more current and can be deadly. Eels might startle you with a shock, but it won't be fatal.

If you should find yourself in a school of electric eels bent on subduing you, however, the shocks could result in brief incapacitation that could lead to drowning or an aggravation of an existing heart condition. The study authors hope to eventually film a coordinated eel attack on (non-human) prey.

The discovery of two new species was “quite literally shocking,” lead author Carlos David de Santana told The New York Times.

[h/t Phys.org]

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

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