Augmented Reality Being Used to Curb Fear of Spiders

by Boaz Feldman

If you are not sure if you suffer from arachnophobia - the scientific term for a fear of spiders, an easy way to find out is to watch the 1991 cult classic film “Arachnophobia”.
If you’re like most people, you’ll make it about 30 minutes into the film before you start looking in every dark corner of your house with a hefty bottle of bug spray and wearing combat boots to bed in case you need to squash something creepy and crawly in the middle of the night.About 3.5%-6.1% of the world’s population suffers from this phobia; enough people that Switzerland’s University of Basel has taken the time to try and be a good samaritan and help reduce the fear associated with our eight-legged companions by way of an augmented reality (AR) smartphone app called Phobys. 

Augmented Exposure Therapy

Phobys works by using a psychological treatment known as exposure therapy in which someone confronts their greatest fear in a controlled environment.
So, if you had a fear of snakes, you would go into a room containing a snake in an aquarium (preferably with a lid on it) and spend a certain amount of time at various distances from the snake to get acclimated to it.
For people who have a fear of flying, exposure therapy would involve a number of steps starting with merely sitting in an airplane in a hangar, then sitting in one that turns its engines on, and eventually experiencing a takeoff, flight, and landing.

Exposure therapy involving spiders sounds like the plot of a horror movie, so Phobys uses the much-less terrifying idea of putting the user in a simulated environment with a spider.
The app features 10 different levels that slowly ramp the user up in terms of comfort of a not-really-there arachnid. It starts with merely watching a spider in a video and eventually leads up to putting one of your body parts in front of the AR filter to simulate the look, but thankfully not the feel of a spider walking across one of your arms or legs. A study done by the University of Basel researchers found that test participants reported their fear of spiders and other arachnids dropped significantly when they used the app six times during a two-week test period. The app is free for download for both iOS and Android devices, but you will need to cough up $5 in order to download all 10 levels. 

“(The test subjects) filled out several questionnaires regarding their fear, disgust, behavior, and thoughts of spiders,” the app’s website reports. “Before and after the training phase, their fear of spiders was tested in a real-life situation.
Their use of Phobys displayed a significant reduction of fear and disgust of spiders - both in the real-life situation and the questionnaires!”