Why do I have an irrational fear of crumpets?
Trypophobes beware this terrifying morning treat!
It sounds like you are probably a ‘trypophobe’ – that is, someone with an irrational fear of clusters of holes or bumps, like you find on the surface of lotus seed pods, freshly frothed coffee, honeycomb, and, yes, crumpets!
This isn’t a condition that’s been officially recognised by psychiatry yet, but research has exploded in recent years, largely since a 2013 paper by two University of Essex psychologists, which described the condition and showed that it was caused by images that share a similar clustered pattern.
According to these researchers, trypophobes can experience shivers, itchiness, skin crawling and/or nausea when they look at clusters of holes, and sometimes feel panicky and like they want to scream and destroy the holes. The Essex group thinks trypophobia could be an evolutionary hangover related to the fact that some dangerous animals, such as certain snakes and frogs, have a similarly clustered pattern on their skin.
Other researchers in Japan have put forward a theory based on the idea that the condition reflects an oversensitivity to patterns that resemble various skin diseases.
Today, there are communities of trypophobes on sites such as Facebook and Reddit. These feature images that trypophobes (roughly 15 per cent of us, by some estimates) find powerfully triggering – so browse with caution.
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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.
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