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Latest virtual reality treatment method helps combat arachnophobia

A recent study conducted by a University of Texas at Austin research group exhibited how people exposed to a form of 360-degree video therapy were able to get past arachnophobia.

Virtual reality (VR) is a versatile immersive technology form which has various applications. VR is now being used as a cutting-edge treatment method to help the average person overcome their biggest fears.

Researchers from the Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab at The University of Texas at Austin are currently inspecting the prospects of utilising virtual reality technology to help people surpass anxiety-related issues such as arachnophobia. Other forms of anxiety such as Entomophobia and Ophidiophobia, caused by snakes and insects respectively, are also being looked at by the researchers.

IgnisVR

The University of Texas researchers is looking past the conventionally used methods for anxiety, such as shock-therapy which involves inserting a person’s arm into a tank full of spiders. Virtual reality is bringing forth a more innovative approach, by raising the comfort levels of those who fear spiders. The research group study was recently published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. The study showcased how utilising virtual reality is proving to be beneficial in helping to take the first step towards combating fear.

The therapy form, titled as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), utilises 360-degree virtual reality video. This therapy form moves away from CGI mock-ups and incorporates panoramic video to create a photorealistic environment.

Remarkably, the hardware used by the researchers were not costly, as they mostly used run-of-the-mill tech store equipment. Two cameras were placed at the approximate distance of two human eyes, through the use of a three-dimensional dual-camera setup. Both the cameras were then used to record footage.

Images recorded by the left side camera were projected on the left lens, and the right side camera image was projected on the right lens, of a virtual reality headset.

The scenario created by the setup helped individuals understand that there were no real spiders, and they would just meet virtual ones. The virtual reality-enabled video survey saw the participation of 77 arachnophobia-stricken college students.

A 2D documentary on the subject of spiders was showcased to a random group of students, while another group had to watch a three-dimensional feature by putting on a VR headset. The videos were followed by a real-world testing session. Students were guided by the researchers into a room with several varying conditions.

There were fourteen levels of the VR experience in total. The very first level involves individuals going into a set containing a terrarium with a tarantula. All the other levels lead to a final level where participants had to take out a spider from its cubicle and hold onto it for a duration of 15 seconds.

The treatment helped to make significant progress, as reported by the paper. Students who had to stop the experiment at the seventh level experienced a raised tolerance level upwards of 10.5. This latest development is an example of how modern immersive technologies can make an impact on people’s lives.

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