New psychology research suggests trypophobia is not just a social media phenomenon

New research published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that trypophobia, often described as the fear of groups of little holes, may not just be a viral Internet sensation, but rather a real psychological condition. The results suggest that around 1 in 10 people are affected.

Trypophobia, which triggers feelings of disgust, discomfort or anxiety at the sight of piles of holes, has been the subject of scientific research with nearly fifty studies delving into its nature.

However, this disease has also attracted attention online, notably through images of lotus seed pods, honeycombs or aerated chocolate, leading many to speculate that it is a phenomenon induced by social media.

Curiosity regarding the prevalence of trypophobia has led researchers to consider the role of social learning in its development. Social learning theory suggests that we learn new behaviors by observing and imitating others. The research team, led by Geoff G. Cole of the University of Essex, wondered whether exposure to trypophobic images on platforms like Facebook or Instagram could increase susceptibility to the condition.

The team conducted two experiments. The first surveyed more than 2,558 people using the Trypophobia Questionnaire to see if age and gender were linked to trypophobia, as younger people and women tend to engage more with social media . The second recruited 283 individuals and focused on whether prior knowledge of the disease made an individual more sensitive to trypophobic stimuli, compared to those who had not heard of the disease.

Results revealed that younger people and women are more likely to experience greater sensitivity to trypophobic discomfort, as indicated by higher Trypophobia Questionnaire scores, and that trypophobic sensitivity consistently decreases with age, suggesting that social media use plays a role in this phenomenon.

Additionally, sensitivity to trypophobic stimuli was found to be greater in individuals who had previously heard of the disease than in those who had not.

Interestingly, around a quarter of those affected have never heard of trypophobia, suggesting that the condition extends beyond the realm of social learning via social media.

“When it comes to the non-social components of learning, that is of course less easy to identify. The condition may be due to an evolved sensitivity towards animal pests. (An alternative theory) suggests that humans have developed a sensitivity to skin pathologies. Evidence for this is the observation that emotional responses to trypophobia are greater when the holes are digitally placed on human skin,” Cole and colleagues suggest.

The authors concluded: “Overall, these results suggest that although the wide presence of trypophobia on the Internet may have contributed to the social learning aspect of the phenomenon; this cannot be the only explanation.

Although the study does not explicitly acknowledge limitations, participants were recruited only in the UK, suggesting the need for a more globally diverse sample.

The study, “The Social Learning Narrative of Trypophobia,” was authored by Geoff G. Cole, Abbie C. Millett, and Marie Juanchich.

News Source :
Gn Health

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