Do you find this image makes you uneasy? Scientists now know why

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Do you feel uneasy 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’.

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‘Some people are so intensely bothered by the sight of these objects that they can’t stand to be around them,’ says Stella Lourenco, a psychologist at Emory University .

‘The phenomenon, which likely has an evolutionary basis, may be more common than we realize.’

Previous research had suggested that the phobia might be linked to patterns such as the ones on snakes’ skin.

Sarah Paulson’s character suffers from trypophobia.

‘We’re an incredibly visual species,’ says Vladislav Ayzenberg, a graduate student in the Lourenco lab and lead author of the PeerJ study.

‘Low-level visual properties can convey a lot of meaningful information.

‘These visual cues allow us to make immediate inferences – whether we see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake – and react quickly to potential danger.’

The researchers used eye-tracking devices and a device to measure pupil size to look at responses to images of clusters of ‘holes’ plus images of threatening animals.

The researchers found that images of ‘holes’ cause pupils to constrict – associated with feelings of disgust, rather than fear.

‘On the surface, images of threatening animals and clusters of holes both elicit an aversive reaction,’ Ayzenberg says.

‘Our findings, however, suggest that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions are different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties.’

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