Do you feel disgust – or terror – when you see clusters of circular stuff – like the image we’ve helpfully included on this page?
We have some good news, and some bad.
There’s no cure, but scientists may have just worked out why you find clusters of round things so alarming – which is known as ‘trypophobia’.
The University of Kent researchers believe it’s linked to anxiety about parasites and infectious disease.
Previous explanations for the condition include the idea we evolved to respond to clusters of round shapes because these shapes are also found on poisonous animals, like some snakes and the blue-ringed octopus.
Now new research, led by Tom Kupfer of the University’s School of Psychology, suggests it’s linked to diseases and parasites.
The team noted that many infectious diseases result in clusters of round shapes on the skin: smallpox, measles, rubella, typhus, scarlet fever etc.
Similarly, many ectoparasites, like scabies, tics and botfly also lead to clusters of round shapes on the skin.
The study saw over 300 people recruited to take part from trypophobia support groups – who were invited view sixteen cluster images.
Trypophobic people found disease clusters especially unpleasant to look at – and reported some pretty alarming symptoms.
The researchers write, ‘Analysis of these responses revealed that the majority of individuals with trypophobia experienced disgust or disgust-related feelings like nausea or the urge to vomit,, even towards the disease-irrelevant cluster images like a sponge or bubbles. Only a small proportion described feeling fear or fear-related feelings.
‘In addition to disgust, trypophobic individuals frequently reported feelings like skin itching, skin crawling or even the sensation of ‘bugs infesting the skin’.
‘This skin response suggests that people with trypophobia may perceive cluster stimuli as if they are cues to ectoparasites, even leading some to feel as if they are infested.’