If The New iPhone Design Makes You Uncomfortable, There’s A Psychological Reason Why

Apple's annual conference announcing the coming year's new slate of iPhones and other tech innovations is often met with similar enthusiasm as the Super Bowl. But with the release of the new iPhone 11, of which the Pro Max version features three camera lenses on its back face, some people on the internet are saying the new design is activating their trypophobia, or fear of holes. Bustle has reached out to Apple for comment, and we will update this post when we receive a response.

Though trypophobia is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a 2018 review of the scientific literature on trypophobia published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry suggested that trypophobia may be associated with generalized anxiety disorder. And Dr. Debra Kissen, PhD, the clinical director of the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago and co-chair of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America's Public Education committee, tells Bustle that she's seen trypophobia as part of a spectrum of behaviors associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

"I've worked with people who have certain patterns that could be very triggering, and certain textures that can be hard," Dr. Kissen says. "For certain individuals, holes can bring on extreme discomfort, extreme anxiety, extreme feelings of disgust." This extreme reaction, where a stimulus like holes would be detrimental to someone's quality of life, might be part of an OCD spectrum of disorders.

"I don't think the iPhone would bother someone as much as something like a sponge," Dr. Kissen says. However, she says, "for whatever reason for people's brains, [holes] just bring on the fight or flight response."

A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science concluded that the clustered hole images that gave people such a strong visceral response, such as those found in Swiss cheese and honeycombs, bear striking similarities to potentially dangerous animals. Therefore, the study suggested, trypophobia might originate from an innate instinct to alert the human body to danger.

However, subsequent studies have found that the trypophobia that affects about 16% of the population may in fact be a response of disgust, rather than of fear. A 2017 study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion concluded trypophobia is linked to a strong sensitivity to disgust. And according to the study, disgust is based heavily in the desire to avoid disease. This disease avoidance makes sense in the case of trypophobia, the study concluded, given that certain parasites and infectious diseases resemble the images and objects that activate people's trypophobia. Intense disgust as an underlying cause of trypophobia also explains people's self-reported itchiness and the need to scratch at their skin when they see images of tiny holes.

"There might be something in terms of survival where our ancestors determined that things with holes are dangerous," Dr. Kissen says, leading to a disgust reaction or phobia in the present day.

For people who feel uncomfortable looking at holes without it provoking an extreme response, it's still an understandable reaction from a psychological perspective. Dr. Kissen likens the reaction to feeling grossed out when you touch something sticky, or hating the sound of someone chewing.

As to which people are more likely to experience this intense disgust that may feel like fear, a 2017 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry suggested that people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder may be more prone to have trypophobia. And people who are prone both to fearing the threat of disease and to experiencing intense emotional distress are also more likely to experience trypophobia, according to a 2016 study published in SpringerPlus.

It's important to remember that trypophobia can have severe impacts on quality of life, but like any mental illness, it is treatable. Dr. Kissen says exposure therapy, where patients are exposed to a trigger in manageable doses, can help retrain the brain to not think of holes as a trigger any more. "There are different phobia that aren't always logical why our brain gets triggered, but that doesn't make it any less real," Dr. Kissen says.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.