What Is Trypophobia? And Is It Real?

iStock
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

5 Signs Humans Are Still Evolving

Lealisa Westerhoff, AFP/Getty Images
Lealisa Westerhoff, AFP/Getty Images

When we think of human evolution, our minds wander back to the millions of years it took natural selection to produce modern-day man. Recent research suggests that, despite modern technology and industrialization, humans continue to evolve. "It is a common misunderstanding that evolution took place a long time ago, and that to understand ourselves we must look back to the hunter-gatherer days of humans," Dr. Virpi Lummaa, a professor at the University of Turku, told Gizmodo.

But not only are we still evolving, we're doing so even faster than before. In the last 10,000 years, the pace of our evolution has sped up, creating more mutations in our genes, and more natural selections from those mutations. Here are some clues that show humans are continuing to evolve.

1. Humans drink milk.

Historically, the gene that regulated humans' ability to digest lactose shut down as we were weaned off our mothers' breast milk. But when we began domesticating cows, sheep, and goats, being able to drink milk became a nutritionally advantageous quality, and people with the genetic mutation that allowed them to digest lactose were better able to propagate their genes.

The gene was first identified in 2002 in a population of northern Europeans that lived between 6000 and 5000 years ago. The genetic mutation for digesting milk is now carried by more than 95 percent of northern European descendants. In addition, a 2006 study suggests this tolerance for lactose developed again, independently of the European population, 3000 years ago in East Africa.

2. We're losing our wisdom teeth.

Our ancestors had much bigger jaws than we do, which helped them chew a tough diet of roots, nuts, and leaves. And what meat they ate they tore apart with their teeth, all of which led to worn-down chompers that needed replacing. Enter the wisdom teeth: A third set of molars is believed to be the evolutionary answer to accommodate our ancestors' eating habits.

Today, we have utensils to cut our food. Our meals are softer and easier to chew, and our jaws are much smaller, which is why wisdom teeth are often impacted when they come in — there just isn't room for them. Unlike the appendix, wisdom teeth have become vestigial organs. One estimate says 35 percent of the population is born without wisdom teeth, and some say they may disappear altogether.

3. We're resisting infectious diseases.

In 2007, a group of researchers looking for signs of recent evolution identified 1800 genes that have only become prevalent in humans in the last 40,000 years, many of which are devoted to fighting infectious diseases like malaria. More than a dozen new genetic variants for fighting malaria are spreading rapidly among Africans. Another study found that natural selection has favored city-dwellers. Living in cities has produced a genetic variant that allows us to be more resistant to diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy. "This seems to be an elegant example of evolution in action," says Dr. Ian Barnes, an evolutionary biologist at London's Natural History Museum, said in 2010 statement. "It flags up the importance of a very recent aspect of our evolution as a species, the development of cities as a selective force."

4. Our brains are shrinking.

While we may like to believe our big brains make us smarter than the rest of the animal world, our brains have actually been shrinking over the last 30,000 years. The average volume of the human brain has decreased from 1500 cubic centimeters to 1350 cubic centimeters, which is an amount equivalent to the size of a tennis ball.

There are several different conclusions as to why this is: One group of researchers suspects our shrinking brains mean we are in fact getting dumber. Historically, brain size decreased as societies became larger and more complex, suggesting that the safety net of modern society negated the correlation between intelligence and survival. But another, more encouraging theory says our brains are shrinking not because we're getting dumber, but because smaller brains are more efficient. This theory suggests that, as they shrink, our brains are being rewired to work faster but take up less room. There's also a theory that smaller brains are an evolutionary advantage because they make us less aggressive beings, allowing us to work together to solve problems, rather than tear each other to shreds.

5. Some of us have blue eyes.

Originally, we all had brown eyes. But about 10,000 years ago, someone who lived near the Black Sea developed a genetic mutation that turned brown eyes blue. While the reason blue eyes have persisted remains a bit of a mystery, one theory is that they act as a sort of paternity test. “There is strong evolutionary pressure for a man not to invest his paternal resources in another man’s child,” Bruno Laeng, lead author of a 2006 study on the development of blue eyes, told The New York Times. Because it is virtually impossible for two blue-eyed mates to create a brown-eyed baby, our blue-eyed male ancestors may have sought out blue-eyed mates as a way of ensuring fidelity. This would partially explain why, in a recent study, blue-eyed men rated blue-eyed women as more attractive compared to brown-eyed women, whereas females and brown-eyed men expressed no preference.

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER