Do you have an aversion to the seed head of the lotus flower or honeycomb? If so, you might also get nervous about the situation that you are looked at by many people. The traits which make you uncomfortable with them are social anxiety and trypophobia.


Imagine you are being gazed at by multiple individuals simultaneously. Is the provoked anxiety a learned social-specific response or related to a pathological disorder known as trypophobia? A previous study revealed that spectral properties of images induced aversive reactions in observers with trypophobia. However, it is not clear whether individual differences such as social anxiety traits are related to the discomfort associated with trypophobic images. To investigate this issue, we conducted two experiments with social anxiety and trypophobia and images of eyes and faces. In Experiment 1, participants completed a social anxiety scale and trypophobia questionnaire before evaluation of the discomfort experienced upon exposure to pictures of eye. The results showed that social anxiety had a significant indirect effect on the discomfort associated with the eye clusters, and that the effect was mediated by trypophobia. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1 using images of human face. The results showed that, as in Experiment 1, a significant mediation effect of trypophobia was obtained, although the relationship between social anxiety and the discomfort rating was stronger than in Experiment 1. Our findings suggest that both social anxiety and trypophobia contribute to the induction of discomfort when one is gazed at by many people.


Chaya K, Xue Y, Uto Y, Yao Q, Yamada Y. (2016) Fear of eyes: triadic relation among social anxiety, trypophobia, and discomfort for eye cluster. PeerJ 4:e1942