WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Twitter users expressed revulsion after an image of a woodpecker stashing away its acorn supply made the internet rounds.
- They were reacting to the set of holes in which the woodpecker was storing its treasure, triggering a condition called trypophobia.
- People with trypophobia are afraid of clustered patterns of irregular holes or bumps. The phobia isn’t an official disorder, according to experts.
Twitter-users were angered when a photo of a woodpecker stashing away its acorn supply made the internet rounds. But, weren’t reacting to the bird or the actual acorns, but to the set of holes in which the bird was storing its treasure. Clustered in an irregular pattern, the holes were triggering a condition called trypophobia.
People with this phobia aren’t just afraid of any hole they see. Trypophobia is characterized by an aversion to clustered patterns of irregular holes or bumps.
The term seems to have been coined by someone in an online forum in 2005, though scientists say the condition has likely been around for much longer.
“We know that this condition pre-existed the internet — although the internet may have exacerbated it,” Arnold Wilkins, a psychologist at the University of Essex, told Live Science.
The phobia isn’t an official disorder, meaning it’s not listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” but up to 10% of people report experiencing symptoms, which include anxiety, nausea and a “skin-crawling” sensation, Wilkins said, after viewing certain images. “It can be quite debilitating,” he added.
In a study published in 2018 in the journal Cognition and Emotion, scientists argued that the phobia evolved in response to disease. After all, the clusters of holes look like the lesions, bumps and pustules caused by ancient infectious diseases such as smallpox.
Plus, the authors of that study argue, the most common response to a picture of an acorn-dotted tree is not fear, but disgust, which psychologists have called “the disease avoidance emotion.”
Research published in 2018 in the journal PeerJ found that participants’ pupils dilated in response to pictures of snakes, but they constricted in response to pictures of holes — a sign of parasympathetic nervous system activation.
Wilkins is uncertain about the disease-avoidance model — he thinks it’s likely a part of the puzzle, if not the whole picture. But it could be a while before scientists agree on why exactly people react so strongly to a photo of a harmless woodpecker. Until then, Wilkin said “the jury’s out.”
Source: Live Science