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New Smartphone Application with AR To Help with Spider Phobia

Researchers from the University of Basel have developed a new smartphone application equipped with augmented reality (AR) to help individuals cinvat their fear of spiders. Featured in a recent study by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, the application has been proven to bring about notable reductions in the feelings of disgust and fear within a programme duration of two weeks.

A common phobia
According to current estimates, about five percent of people everywhere are affected by a considerable fear of spiders. Significant sections of the global population have this phobia as it is evolutionary in them.

Based on the findings of a 2017 study, babies as young as six months of age have been known to show signs of stress in reaction to spiders. Such findings further reaffirmed that humans are cautious whilst in proximity of spiders, and indicates that the fear is the same that protects from threats.

Exposure therapy
The fear of spiders, referred to as arachnophobia, can be treated through exposure therapy. But there are challenges associated with exposing individuals to such fear sources. Therapists can find it difficult to contain and store large spiders and utilise them effectively for exposure use cases.

VR therapy
There have been some advances in terms of technology related to the use of exposure therapy for the treatment of various fears, including arachnophobia. The use of virtual reality based exposure therapy has enabled clinical professionals to treat patients with fear of heights. However, the use of VR is still limited because of the costs associated with it. VR is also mostly limited to scenarios where clinicians are able to supervise patients whilst sessions are ongoing.

Phobys, the new application, has been developed to facilitate easy access to exposure therapy for people who are affected by arachnophobia. The app features an augmented reality based interface that can project visuals of moving spiders to the surrounding environments of an individual. The effectiveness of the app was tested through a clinical trial involving 66 participants who had clinical or subclinical arachnophobia.

A large section of the participants had to complete six different 30 minute sessions through the mobile application across two weeks. One third of the participants did not get any such instructions.

All the participants underwent several behavioural evaluations at the start of the six week study and also at the end. These helped to gauge their responses to disgust and fear. The Behavioural Approach Test (BAT) was one of the assessments that involved exposure of participants to a real spider placed within a see-through plastic container. The extent of their reactions to the spider is then observed.

According to the researchers, the report pointed out that using a smartphone-based application with augmented reality for exposure can be effective in cutting down the fear of spiders in people. Based on the observations, the application was successful in cutting down feelings of disgust, fear, and avoidance in real-life scenarios. It also led to improvements during the questionnaire-based evaluations.

The application is available on both Android and Apple devices, and is free to try for users.

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