New VR Therapy Helps Fight Arachnophobia

A study by a research group at the University of Texas at Austin shows that 360degree VR video therapy helps people overcome their fear of spiders.
Jessica Miley

Fears. Phobias. There is an almost infinite amount of things people are really terrified. Have you ever thought that the innovative usage of Virtual Reality-based technologies can help you fight those fears?

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin,  Anxiety and Health Behaviors Lab are scrutinizing the potential of using VR technology to fight anxiety disorders like arachnophobia. And the research could extend to anxiety triggered by other various animal species like snakes (Ophidiophobia), or insects (Entomophobia). 

The researchers at UTEXAS go beyond the traditional shock-therapy which entails putting the person's hand into a tank of spiders in a controlled environment. Instead, they use VR technology as a first step to make the arachnophobic person more comfortable.  The group published a study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders proving that with this virtual first stage, people can fight their fears more efficiently. 

Have you heard of VRET

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy uses 360-Degree Video Virtual Reality, in which the unwanted ‘fake’ effect of the former Computer Generated Imagery-based versions are put behind thanks to the photo-realistic environment provided by panorama-video technology.

Impressively the researchers don't use expensive hardware, everything in their system is available on the shelves of your tech store! They positioned two cameras mimicking the distance between the human eyes using a 3D dual-camera rig, then captured footage simultaneously with the cameras.

The imagery recorded by the camera on the left side is projected onto the left lens of an unmodified consumer-grade VR headset, and the video from the right camera goes to the right lens.

The University of Texas at Austin/Elsevier

The real effects of the virtual

Thus, in this case, the patient enters a situation in which she can be sure that there are no real spiders around, the only animals she’s about to encounter with exist virtually. 77 college students struggling with arachnophobia participated in the video-therapy survey.

A randomized group of the students watched a regular 2D documentary about spiders, while the other group watched a stereoscopic 3D immersive treatment through a VR set. After the psychoeducational videos, they ran the real-world test: The researchers asked the students to walk into a room with varying conditions inside.

The experiment has fourteen levels from number one, which is entering a room where there is a tarantula in a terrarium. Next levels are baby steps towards the final one: taking the spider out of its cubicle while holding it for approximately fifteen seconds.

As their paper states, the treatment caused great progression. While before it, students stopped the experiment at level seven on average, their tolerance excelled at leveling 10.5. Research leader Sean Minns says that the improvement is clinically significant.

This is another excellent example proving that interdisciplinary methods coupled with the altered usage of our digital contemporaneity can lead to groundbreaking discoveries with the potential of helping people living with anxieties.

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