Virtual reality and erophobia (fear of flying)

Many people are scared of flying but are able to cope with it and carry on their normal, day to day lives. It does not prevent them from getting onto a plane and is seen as a minor inconvenience.

But there are other groups of people who have an extreme fear of flying to the extent that they develop a phobia. This is known in medical terms as ‘aerophobia’. They dislike being enclosed in a small space such as a plane or have a fear about plane crashes which leads to anxiety or a panic attack if they are placed in that situation.

This article looks at how this phobia is treated using virtual reality.

Having a phobia about flying means that your life is restricted to a certain extent in that you are unable to enjoy family holidays or travel on business – which is problematic if your job requires you to do so.

Virtual reality treatment for aerophobia

But there is a solution to this which is based upon virtual reality. The sufferer wears a head mounted display (HMD) complete with headphones and a tracking device. This HMD displays a series of 3D images of a flight which includes take off, cruising and landing. It also includes announcements made by a flight crew, e.g. captain and even weather control.

The sufferer experiences being on a passenger airplane complete with force feedback, e.g. small vibrations. These mimic the sound of the engines which contributes to the sense of full immersion.

The idea is that the sufferer is exposed to the trigger for their anxiety, e.g. flying which teaches them how to control the symptoms of their anxiety. The more times the sufferer is exposed to the source of their phobia the more desensitised they will become which will ease the symptoms. It will appear less threatening which also means that they have greater control over the situation. The sufferer will gain in confidence and self-esteem to the extent that they will eventually overcome their fear of flying.

The advantage of virtual reality is that the scenario can be adjusted according to the extent of the phobia. For example, if someone has a high level of anxiety about flying then the scenario is altered accordingly so that they become less stressed about the situation. The level of exposure can be increased as the sufferer becomes more confident and less anxious about flying.

Plus this is a safe, controlled environment in which the sufferer learns coping strategies, builds their confidence and feels in control of the situation.

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