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Koumpounophobia

Understanding the Fear of Buttons

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Updated June 14, 2014

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Koumpounophobia, or the fear of buttons, is surprisingly common. Yet like any phobia, the specific fear may vary dramatically between sufferers. Some people are afraid of the texture of certain buttons. Others feel that buttons are somehow dirty. Some only fear touching or wearing buttons, while others are scared of viewing buttons worn by strangers or friends.

Texture Issues

Many people claim to feel disgusted by buttons rather than actively afraid of them. In 2004, researchers at the University of Sussex theorized that fear and disgust are heavily linked. Issues with certain textures are common with a variety of disorders including those on the autism spectrum, but also occur alone. If you are disgusted by the texture of some buttons, you might begin to dread handling them. Over time, this dread could worsen to include all buttons, even those that are of a different texture. You might also begin to fear seeing buttons, even if you are not required to touch them.

Interestingly, most people with a texture-related fear of buttons seem to be especially afraid of plastic buttons. Metal buttons, such as those on jeans, are not a common object of fear.

Germ Phobia

Some people report that they are particularly afraid of old buttons. A common example is a box of buttons discovered in grandma's old sewing room. The general belief seems to be that these buttons are unclean. This could be disgust masquerading as fear, or it could be related to mysophobia, or the fear of germs. In many cases, those who are afraid of old buttons have similar fears regarding old clothes in general, but this is not always true. Likewise, some people who fear old buttons are also afraid of new buttons, though to a lesser extent.

Inhaling or Swallowing Buttons

Some people are not afraid of the button itself, but are afraid that they might accidentally inhale or swallow it. Small children often put objects in their noses or mouths, and loose buttons sometimes attract their attention. Phobias are sometimes, though not always, based on frightening past experiences. If you swallowed a button or got one stuck in your nose as a child, you might be at increased risk for developing this fear. In addition, the traumatic experience need not have happened to you. If you witnessed another child in distress due to an errant button, that could be enough to trigger this fear.

Related Phobias

Depending on its severity, button phobia sometimes extends to other objects. Some people with a fear of buttons also develop the fear of small coins, discs and other button-sized items. Over time, an untreated fear of buttons could become life-limiting, preventing the sufferer from interacting with a wide range of common household items.

Steve Jobs

In 2007, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs revealed his button phobia to the Wall Street Journal. His phobia extended far beyond clothing buttons, ironically setting the stage for what was arguably the forward-thinking company's most remarkable success. Modeled after the company's 1993 Newton MessagePad PDA, the revolutionary iPhone took the world by storm upon its 2007 release. Singlehandedly, it changed the concept of a cell phone from a device that resembled a traditional telephone to a smooth rectangular block that consisted primarily of a touchscreen. If Steve Jobs had not been afraid of buttons, would cell phones and tablets as we now know them exist today?

Treating Button Phobia

Like all phobias, koumpounophobia responds well to a variety of treatment methods. Brief therapy methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can often treat simple phobias in just a few sessions. Your therapist will work with you to design an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs. Although a button phobia can have far-reaching impacts on your daily life, with professional help and hard work it can be overcome.

Sources:

UQ News Online. The University of Queensland. "Researchers unlock snake and spider mystery." March 7, 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2013 from http://www.uq.edu.au/news/index.html?article=14203

Davey, Graham. "Why I Study…Disgust." The Psychologist. 17:6. June 2004. Retrieved February 27, 2013.

CBS News: "Apple's Steve Jobs Hates Buttons." Retrieved February 27, 2013 from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501203_162-3095726.html

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