Understanding the Fear of Buttons

Button collection

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Koumpounophobia is the fear of buttons, a relatively rare condition. 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

People may actually feel disgusted by buttons rather than actively afraid of them. Researchers have theorized that fear and disgust are heavily linked. 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.

Issues with certain textures are also common with a variety of disorders including those on the autism spectrum, but also occur alone.

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 may be that these buttons are unclean. This could be disgust masquerading as fear, or it could be related to mysophobia, 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 that 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 iPhones and tablets 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.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Davey GC. Disgust: the disease-avoidance emotion and its dysfunctions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci. 2011;366(1583):3453-65. doi:10.1098%2Frstb.2011.0039

  2. Cascio CJ, Moana-filho EJ, Guest S, et al. Perceptual and neural response to affective tactile texture stimulation in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res. 2012;5(4):231-44. doi:10.1002/aur.1224

  3. Mckay D. Treating disgust reactions in contamination-based obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2006;37(1):53-9. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2005.09.005

  4. Garcia R. Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learn Mem. 2017;24(9):462-471. doi:10.1101%2Flm.044115.116

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  • Davey GCL. Disgust: The Disease-avoidance Emotion and Its Dysfunctions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2011;366(1583):3453-3465. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0039.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.