Augmented reality app helps people reduce their fear of spiders

University of Basel researchers have a new augmented reality app that runs on smartphones to help people with arachnophobia. The app has proven beneficial to people with a fear of spiders in a clinical study. After a few training sessions at home, researchers found that test subjects utilizing the app reported a reduced fear of real spiders.

Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias that people suffer from, and it can impact the lives of those afflicted with the condition. People attempt to avoid situations where they may encounter spiders, resulting in restrictions on their daily lives. A common treatment for arachnophobia is called exposure therapy, where people expose themselves to spiders under a therapist's guidance. Project researchers developed an augmented reality app that projects the spider on any surface to help those reluctant to encounter real spiders.

Project researchers say the app has shown promising results for the treatment of arachnophobia. The app is called Phobys and is based on the idea behind exposure therapy and projects a realistic spider model. Phobys was tested in a clinical trial with 66 subjects. All of the subjects feared spiders, with some completing six half-hour training sessions using the app over two weeks and others having no intervention.

Before and after the AR app treatment, participants encountered a real spider inside a transparent box, getting as close as their fear would allow. Phobys reduced severe fear of spiders significantly, allowing the people who used it to get closer to the real spider than the control group.

The app offers nine levels allowing users to get closer to the virtual spider and interact with it. At the end of the app treatment, users are assessed for their level of fear and disgust. The app is designed to decide if the level needs to be repeated before moving to the next. The app is available for Android and iPhone users and can be used alone for mild arachnophobia. An in-app purchase is available, offering training to reduce the fear of spiders.