Healthy Living

What Does Trypophobia Do to the Brain?

What Does Trypophobia Do to the Brain?

Trypophobia is a term that was created way back to refer to a certain kind of phobia. It is not an official name and you can’t even find it in the official list of phobias. However, the kind of phobia that this term is used to refer to is as real and as natural as it gets. That should explain why it has become popular on the web really fast.

This type of phobia is an automated reaction of the sympathetic nervous system referred to as horripilation. This reaction is a genetic trait that our bodies use as a protective mechanism in the face of imminent danger. Just like goose bumps, your body develops some kind of discomfort (e.g. shivering, nausea, skin crawling, etc.). These reactions are as a result of a complex process in the brain that is triggered when you develop a visual image of a situation that is getting dangerous. A part of your brain known as the "somatosensory cortex", which is one of the brain's cortical regions, is in charge of interpreting nervous signals that come from the thalamus.

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The somatosensory cortex is very good at its function of interpreting nervous signals that go to and come from the tactile and sensory system. The cortical body is so specified in such a way that every cytoarchitectonic part only deals with a particular part of the body. The brain as a whole is made in such a way that each region has a specified function and only dealing with a specified body part, even the smallest of functions included. For example, a certain part of the brain is dedicated only to the normal functioning of the tips of your fingers, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a relatively small region of the brain. There is also another region of the brain that has a sole purpose of helping the digestion of tactile data that is produced from your feet. 

In other words, your brain is in full control of every functioning part of your body. It keeps track of what is happening on every single surface of your body. When you view an image of a hand that is in very good condition, the visual data is sent to your somatosensory cortex with the help of the occipital lobe. You will then relate and translate the information that you get from the data. If, for example, the hand on the image is shiny, chances are, you will almost feel like your hands are getting oily. However, if the hand is very dry, you can relate to it to the extent of even feeling that your skin is rough when it is rubbed.

Your senses greatly depend on your brain.When you see a disturbing picture, the feelings that it will trigger will play a major role in the way your brain translates it. The brain will eventually overwhelm the somatosensory cortex in its efforts to make sure that you accurately digest the confusing visual information.

Assuming you have seen a picture of severely burnt fingers such that even the carbonized bones located at the center of each finger are visible, most probably as a result of direct contact with high electric discharge, you will likely conclude that the victim had an accident while handling machinery with high voltage input. At this particular time, chances are, you will be feeling it at the tips of your fingers. You will feel the warmth and the pulse of blood flowing in your hand and the skin texture of your fingertips.

The image of the wounded fingers will have enough visual data for your somatosensory cortex to try and give you an accurate interpretation of the picture. It will try to correctly represent the details of the wound such as the depth, position, distance, and any other information that you are trying to guess.

People who do not undergo this kind of reaction have simply managed to simplify it as much as possible. They may consider it to be fictitious and have no relationship with it whatsoever, thereby completely separating their feelings from the disturbing image. However, people with a much higher neural network plasticity can get to the extent of exaggerating the severity of the image and this will, in turn, produce a greater reaction in spite of them not having any real wounds at all.

There is little that you can do to get rid of this reaction. However, there is a simple trick that can help you suppress the discomfort that comes after horripilation. You will just rub the skin of the area that is the root of the reaction. Just place your hand palms on your neck, arms, or any other place, where the goose bumps are originating from.

By rubbing the affected area, you will be simply overriding the distorted information that your visual cortex has relayed as a result of the disturbing image you just saw. In other words, you will be convincing yourself that it was an unnecessary reaction and all is well after all. You will notice that the goose bumps will be replaced by a certain feeling of relief with a touch of satisfaction.

How it influences the brain                               

Trypophobics develop exaggerated anxiety that induces reactions such as nausea, general body discomfort, and itchy skin.

According to the research done on trypophobia, statistically, 15 percent of people (18 percent females and 11 percent males) have intestinal upsets or develop strong emotions just after having a glimpse of clustered holes. 

Clusters or groups of holes include:

  • Honeycombs
  • Clusters of soap bubbles
  • Holes in plants
  • Geological holes that naturally occur 
  • Holes that are made by living organisms such as worms and caterpillars

People with trypophobia fear holes, especially those with irregular edges. The reason is that they link such openings to the fear of holes on their skin. Trypophobics fear of taking keen looks on their skin since they develop an instinct that can make them feel that the holes are real. Holes that can induce such emotions are small and are commonly in groups.

Trypophobia is linked to childhood development and should vanish with the onset of puberty. It is even difficult for trypophobes to clearly elaborate how they feel when they see disturbing images.

Is trypophobia real?

Trypophobia is a type of psychological or behavioral fear. There is no medical condition with the capability of causing holes on the skin. Thus, all pictures that can be seen on the internet about skin holes relating to trypophobia are unrealistic.

Nonetheless, there are certain catastrophic skin conditions, infectious diseases, and some dermatological disorders that can cause real disfiguration. They include:

  • Smallpox
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Vitiligo
  • Tungiasis
  • Leprosy
  • Dermatographia
  • Necrotizing fasciitis
  • Blaschko’s line
  • Epidermodysplasia verruciformis

Can insects cause a skin injury in the form of tiny holes?

This is a myth. There is no insect that can cause a trypophobia-like skin disease. The insect that is circulating on most social platforms is actually a male water bug having eggs on its back. Its bite does not cause holes on the skin and should not be a reason for an apocalyptic alarm.

The cause of trypophobia

Two scholars from Great Britain (Arnold Wilkins and Geoff Cole) suggested that in the ancient periods, there was a general biological dislike by the immune system that caused trypophobia. Some holes that trigger trypophobic reactions were discovered in some reptiles and other malicious animals that might have been dangerous to our predecessors. Cole and Wilkins think that trypophobia is a primitive aspect of the brain, which links pictures that we see to something harmful.

Trypophobia may also be due to the following causes:

1) A long-lasting emotional problem – Some childhood encounters can induce the fear of clustered holes such as bee stings. It can be possible that during the bee sting healing process, the person might have developed a pore and painful swelling.

2) Evolutionary causes - Exposure to a pockmarked object might be interpreted by the brain as something harmful.

3) Organic objects - Include skin rashes or blisters after bouts of diseases.

Signs and symptoms of trypophobia

People who experience trypophobia typically have a series of queasiness and irritation of the entire body after looking at something that has clustered holes.

Normally, there are two main responses that follow such events:

  • Looking at the small holes for some period of time and then destroy it afterward.
  • Dizziness after encountering clustered holes.

Other sensations may also be felt after getting into proximity to substances that intensify such phobias. The majority of the people report:

  • A skulking feel on the skin
  • Stomach churning
  • Anxiety
  • Hair hurting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Diagnosis and tests for trypophobia

Up to now, little is known about what causes trypophobia, and what other medical conditions are linked to this type of phobia. Hence, no approved test can be used to assess it.

There is only a single way of diagnosing trypophobia. This procedure is facilitated by letting trypophobic people see something with clusters of holes to determine whether it elicits some symptoms.

In conclusion, only two ways can confirm trypophobia:

  • Presenting something with holes, maybe an image.
  • Exposing the individual to something that has numerous holes in real life.

Lotus seed pod phobia test

The most widely used technique to identify the phobia of punctures on the skin is done by way of displaying lotus pods, which also go by the name "lotus seed pods".

Trypophobia test picture

An alternative method can be conducted by having a picture that has lotus seed pods or a Photoshopped image that depicts holes on the skin.

Another test is exposure to beehives and corals. Trypophobics will be overwhelmed with fear when they are exposed to such images or things.


There are many psychotherapy approaches that can treat numerous psychological fears including trypophobia. Since this phobia is mainly concerned with how the brain perceives certain objects, its management, cure, and treatment should be based on available therapeutic techniques.

Trauma-focused therapies have a strong effect on trypophobia. The methods of therapy used for trypophobia are the following:

1) Behavioral therapy

This method allows affected people to have the privilege of adjusting their unwanted behavior, which entails equipping trypophobics with the necessary skills that can allow them to adapt to stressful situations when exposed to aggravating factors, particularly small holes.

2) Cognitive therapy

This method changes what trypophobics can consider as dangerous or friendly. For the therapy to work effectively, they should learn how to genuinely consider things that are harmful in real life apart from those that are not. It requires participation and cooperation from the trypophobic person for it to be effective.

3) Behavioral and cognitive therapies

Many therapists prefer to use a combination of these two therapies as a remedy for trypophobia. In this combined therapy, the patient is able to learn how to recover after exposure to factors that worsen their phobia.

4) Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)

This therapeutic technique can reprogram the patients, thereby decreasing or even getting rid of their phobia for the rest of their lives. This method is advantageous since its effects are immediate and effective at the same time. Moreover, it is much simpler to use in improving the patients' state and well-being.

5) Exposure therapy

It has been proven that when people are exposed to factors that can recurrently stimulate their phobia, they tend to be quite resistant with time. Such can be the case even for trypophobes.

6) Flooding

This is a therapy that involves immersing the trypophobe in a non-weakening stimulus until they develop resistance. Some responses in trypophobia are so extreme that they only require mental perception rather than encountering the trigger. This requires relaxation therapy to systematically develop resistance to trypophobia.

7) Modeling

In this method, people are expected to develop healing abilities by seeing other similar persons going through therapy while they are still conscious. A splendid example is to have a trypophobe experience the removal of a bot fly from a person who is not trypophobic. What this encounter does is make the affected person more composed and can get rid of their fear in an easy and completely friendly manner.

How to get rid of trypophobia

Anybody that has ever attempted to defeat an irrational fright with trypophobia or vaccinophobia is aware of how backbreaking it can be. Hence, the apparent incapability of it all makes many sufferers to quit, letting their phobic trends adapt to their lives.

Luckily, these people should know that they can get over trypophobia if they approach it in the right manner. Here are five systematic plan of action for getting rid of this undesirable fear so that people who are affected by it can recover their lives.

1) Confront your fears

To get over trypophobia or vaccinophobia, one should not feel embarrassed about anything. Many other individuals experience what you are also going through every day. Therefore, you are not alone in this fight. For this plan of action to be most efficient, it is advisable to increase your exposure step-by-step and then pass the time near the things that make you get trypophobic or vaccinophobic. Begin slow and small then figure out your way up bit by bit. Exercising and repeating these steps are the secrets to the success of this strategy.

2) Do not allow setbacks or panics make you powerless

Everybody gets to experience a bad day once in a while. The crucial thing is not to allow yours to prevent you from moving forward. Even though you feel like you are not advancing, remember that such situations can be deceiving. On such days, sit back and evaluate how far you have moved on with your vaccinophobia or trypophobia. If you are truthful to yourself, there are chances that you will get some good results.

3) Keep a view of the big picture

This scheme pertains interpreting the chances that you have to throw away. You have a fear of holes but what is making this fear to overpower you? Avoid living with regrets or turn off the embrace of significant modifications until it is too late.

4) Handle fear as a starting point

Instead of considering your fear as a disabling view of your charisma that you simply have to continue living with, think of it as a call or as an incentive to begin affirming the life you have always desired. Note down a particular plan of the precise steps that you will take.

5) Rewire your mind

It is one of the most trusted means of overcoming your fearfulness and gaining courage, which is required to take you to places that you want to go. However, it is easier said than done and that is where a professional may be of help. However, you may be telling yourself that direct guidance sessions are expensive. Luckily, there are viable options. Psychotherapy has demonstrated to be an enormously efficient way of rewiring the brain against trypophobia for a long time. Fortunately, thanks to the technology of today, hypnosis can be extremely cost-efficient and can be done at the convenience of your home.

6) Exercise, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques

If your anxiousness is too difficult for you to face the object at first, attempt to use a rest technique to minimize it. Meditation and yoga are outstanding techniques for relaxation, although you can as well try a continuous relaxation of muscles, taking a long and comforting shower, or deep breathing. Discover what works for you and utilize it to assist you in moving on and overcoming anxiety as well as its triggers.

7) Talk about your fear of holes with a friend or somebody you trust

It is always wise to discuss your fears and anxiety with someone. Make an effort to open up to someone concerning your fear as an initial step in phobia management. Speak to members of your family, an acquaintance, or a counselor regarding your fearfulness and the manner in which it impacts you in your everyday life.

8) Look after yourself

Exercising and consuming a balanced diet are all essential components of sound mental health. Your trypophobia may be getting over you, so it is crucial to try harder into preserving your good health. Frequent exercising, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep can as well keep your anxiousness under control. Ensure that you are giving plenty of time to meet your basic needs for food, exercise, and daily sleep.

9) Educate yourself

One of the ways of reducing anxiety induced by an irrational fright is gaining knowledge about the things that you fear. By educating yourself about the root cause of your fear, you can demystify it. Learning more about the source of your fear is a very effective way to overcome phobias.

For instance, if you become nervous after encountering a lotus pod, study more about it, and why it produces clusters of holes. What is their role? Discovering the purpose of the clumped holes will assist you in identifying the root cause of your fearfulness and maybe even value the shape for the role it plays.

10) Try to determine the fundamental triggers of your fear

Some individuals can discover the causes of trypophobia, which may assist in understanding and addressing the concern. Determine when your trypophobia has started. Do you recall the day when you first noticed that the clustered holes are repulsing or scary? Like all anxiety disorders, there can never be just one response. For most people, the triggers may vary. Try to remember the things that trouble you, whether it is a poor memory, unsound experience, or just disgust.

11) Identify the root cause

It is important to know the forms of clustered holes that can induce your anxiety and other damaging effects to enable you to face such objects. Come up with a list of everything that can stimulate your trypophobia and ways in which you can respond to them.

12) Know more about trypophobia

Individuals with trypophobia go through an irrational fright of clustered holes. Examples of such triggers may include lotus flowers, bubbles, and aerated chocolate. Patients' of such condition suffer from nausea, shivering, and grievous anxiety when faced with inductions. Different from most fears that may prevail in people’s sentiments, trypophobia only appears to impact the affected when they come across holes.