An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Bristol led by Professor Dominique de Quervain has developed an augmented reality mobile app called Phobys to help people reduce their fear of spiders. Test subjects in the clinical trial reported experiencing less fear of real spiders after a series of training sessions with the app at home.

Phobys use augmented reality to act as exposure therapy that displays a 3D spider model projected to the real world. Researchers said that this would make it easier for people with arachnophobia to face a virtual spider than a real one.

 Augmented Reality Platform Act As Exposure Therapy to Help People Overcome Their Fear of Spiders
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Augmented Reality Platform Act As Exposure Therapy to Help People Overcome Their Fear of Spiders

What is Arachnophobia?

Healthline defines phobia as a significant, irrational fear of animals, objects, places, and certain situations. The intense fear associated with these things came from negative past experiences.

There are many types of phobia and one of which is arachnophobia or the fear of spiders. Although many people dislike arachnids or insects, arachnophobia is an intense and overwhelming fear of spiders that makes people feel like they are under a serious threat.

Like all phobias, it can prevent people from joining events or going to places where spiders might be available. Since phobias are also linked to anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, arachnophobia could cause debilitating effects and interfere with a person's life.

But there are ways to work with it so it would not affect a person's everyday life. Experts, like psychologists, use exposure therapy to help reduce fear and avoidance of the feared stimulus. With the advancements of technology, people can experience it now using augmented reality.

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Science-Based App Use Augmented Reality As Exposure Therapy

In the study, titled "Effectiveness of a Smartphone-Based, Augmented Reality Exposure App to Reduce Fear of Spiders in Real-Life: A Randomized Controlled Trial" published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, researchers reported promising results of a new app that could help people overcome their fear of spiders.

Study lead author Anja Zimmer said that they use augmented reality to create a realistic 3D spider model projected to the real world. That way, it will be easier for them to deal with their fear when seeing a virtual spider.

Science Daily reported that the 66 participants of the study who all have arachnophobia were divided into two groups: those who completed six half-hour training units with Phobys for two weeks, and those in the control group were not given any intervention.

Their reactions when exposed to spiders were compared before and after the treatment, wherein they were asked to approach a real spider in a transparent box as closely as possible. Those who trained using Phobys showed significantly less fear compared to those in the control group.

Phobys has nine levels of difficulty that users could interact with the virtual spider. Each level is more intense than the previous one and ends with an assessment with their fear and disgust. The app then will tell the user if they can move on to the next level. Aside from exposure therapy, Phobys also integrated rewarding feedback, animation, and sound effects to motivate users.

The app is now available for download in the app stores for iPhone and Android smartphones. Researchers recommend using the app under the supervision of a professional for those with a severe form of arachnophobia, but those with mild fear could use the app on their own.

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