A new smartphone app developed by researchers at the University of Basel uses augmented reality to help reduce a person's fear of spiders. The study, published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, found that the app significantly reduces feelings of fear and disgust after a two-week program.
Where do people get arachnophobia in the first place
It is estimated that up to five percent of all people experience a severe fear of spiders. It is believed that this well-founded phobia of the scary eight-legged creatures is embedded in some people evolutionarily. A 2017 study found that six-month-old infants often show a stress response when encountering spiders, suggesting that aversion to spiders may be innate, evolved to protect against dangerous threats.
Exposure therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat fears such as arachnophobia. However, safely exposing the source of the fear is not always a simple process. For example, not every therapist's office has a pair of giant tarantulas.
How the Phobys app works
A new smartphone app called Phobys aims to bring exposure therapy to the arachnophobe masses using a simple augmented reality interface designed to project images of moving spiders onto the human environment. The clinical trial testing the effectiveness of the app involved 66 subjects with a clinical or subclinical fear of spiders.
Two-thirds of the subjects were instructed to complete six 30-minute sessions with the smartphone app over a two-week period. The other third acted as a control without direct intervention.
At the beginning and end of the six-week study, all participants underwent a series of behavioral tests to measure their fear and aversion responses. One particular test, called the Behavioral Approach Test, involved showing participants a real spider in a clear plastic container and measuring how close they got to the spider and how they interacted with it.
According to the scientists, the use of the app resulted in a reduction in fear, aversion and avoidance behavior with a medium effect level when tested in a real situation, and a reduction with a large effect level when fear was assessed using a questionnaire.
Download links for the iOS and Android app can be found at official website. The app can be tried for free, but you will have to pay for the full training protocol.