WARNING: This post contains images that may be distressing for people with trypophobia.
The sight of a New York taxi was all it took to send Connecticut woman Jennifer Andresen into hysterics. On the side of the iconic yellow car was an advertisement for the new season of TV thriller American Horror Story.
The reaction was immediate, strong enough she had to pull her car to the side of the road.
“My pulse was racing. I was so nauseous. I thought I would throw up,” she told CNN. “My mother and grandmother were like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I didn’t want to ruin my family’s day, but I couldn’t help myself.”
The popular show is famously unsettling, disturbing, even nightmare-provoking for some. But it wasn’t creepy, murderous clowns that triggered the nurse.
It was the sight of holes.
Andresen suffers from a rare condition known as trypophobia, a word coined to refer to the intense or irrational fear of clusters of bumps or holes, such as those found in a sponge, honeycomb, or bath bubbles.
The colloquial term is believed to have emerged online and on social media around 2005, and is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, with its increasingly usage in the popular lexicon (one Trypohobia Facebook page has more than 10,000 followers), some psychologists are beginning to delve into the unusual fear.
A 2013 paper in the journal Psychological Science, for example, noted that as many as 16 percent of the 286 adults tested experienced a visceral aversion to images of clustered holes or bumps.
While just this year, researchers from the University of Kent theorised in the journal Cognition and Emotion that such a reaction could occur because the patterns “resemble cues to the presence of parasites and infectious disease”. Hence why most sufferers report sensations of itching, skin crawling and disgust.
“It’s pretty well known that disgust helps us avoid infectious diseases and pathogens,” Tom Kupfer, the study’s author told National Geographic. “The response to these images appear to be a disease avoidance response.”
Hole-peppered images dominate the advertising for American Horror Story: Cult, as the main character, Ally Mayfair Richards (played by Sarah Paulson) herself struggles with the condition.
In the first episode, she becomes unsettled by holes in her soufflé and a piece of coral in her therapist’s office.
The image was equally disturbing for Andresen.
“The piece of coral she saw freaked me out so badly that I had to tell my husband. Up to now, I’ve kept it to myself because it seemed so silly, so odd,” she told CNN.
To alleviate the feelings she tries to distract her mind, but lately that’s proving ineffective.
“There’ve been times recently that I had to take anti-nausea medication,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to get in the shower because I feel so itchy. And then I relax and cool down.”
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