What the Heck is Trypophobia and is it a Real Thing?

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD
September 24, 2018

Phobias, or excessive fears or aversions to things that most people do not fear, have always been a fascinating feature of psychology and mystify both clinical and everyday populations alike. Psychologists conduct excessive research on phobias and determine through their studies whether or not an excessive fear warrants the criteria of becoming an actual medical disorder. Trypophobia is one of the commonly discussed phobias that the medical and psychological communities have been attempting to combat in determining the prevalence of it, and whether not it should be considered a specific phobia in medical settings.


Trypophobia is defined as an excessive fear, disgust, or repugnance for repetitive patterns, usually involving clusters of small holes or protrusions. People who report experiencing these fears report that clustered holes, like the holes in sliced bread, a cheese grater, strawberry seeds, honeycombs, some flowers, etc. The name Trypophobia comes from Greek language, where “trypa” means “hole” or “to drill”. Studies have shown that people experience anxiety or panic-like symptoms, including difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, and other signs that a person is experiencing panic when they are exposed to visual things that appear to have a dotted or clustered holes. Researchers have spent time learning about the difficulties that people are having related to these irrational fears and trying to determine whether or not this should be classified as a specific phobia. One study reported that they believe that people are not necessarily afraid of the holes themselves, but rather that the cluster of the holes may subconsciously have these people associating them with “venomous organisms”. This has been connected possibly being a product of evolution, where people may have developed phobia symptoms from an evolutionary fear of something that had caused harm, but has been attributed to things that are generally not harmful. This theory also suggests that a person may experience these symptoms of panic and fear as a result of these kinds of images looking like pustules or disease-ridden skin issues that people may want to have an aversion to, in order to keep themselves safe. Other studies, however, have seen that this phobia is more common in children and appears to be related just to the visual aspects of the clustered holes and may not be related to connections to venomous organisms, as children may not have that knowledge. Because so little research has been done on Trypophobia, it has been difficult to determine concretely whether or not this is a reputable specific phobia.

Still, researchers are perplexed by these symptoms and continue to assess them through reviewing and conducting research. One such review of the research reported that it could be more common in individuals that suffer from migraines or epilepsy. Another study suggested that Trypophobia may be related to a person having empathy and perspective-taking skills, as well as concern for others and possible “personal distress”, meaning difficulties regulating their own emotions and feelings. Some researchers have found that those who experience Trypophobia symptoms do meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) criteria for specific phobia, but that they do not meet the “impairment of daily life/general functioning” criterion that is necessary to make a diagnosis.

While researchers continue to assess what is happening and why, Trypophobia has not been identified with confirmation of it being a specific phobia, though it may meet some criteria. The jury is still out on whether or not this is an evolutionary response or something that comes from anxiety, but either way it is something that many people report experiencing.

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events

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