Virtual reality and arachnophobia (fear of spiders)

Arachnophobia or a fear of spiders is a common type of phobia which tends to affect women more than men. No-one is sure as to what causes this phobia but people who suffer from this demonstrate fear and anxiety when faced with these small, hairy, 8 legged creatures.

This phobia, like many others, is an extreme reaction when faced with a situation which they find threatening. This is an irrational fear but nevertheless, it is very real to the sufferer who experience anxiety when exposed to the source of their distress, e.g. spiders.

This article discusses how virtual reality immersion therapy is used to treat people who suffer from arachnophobia.

Virtual reality treatment for arachnophobia

Treatment is based upon a typical virtual reality set up consisting of a head mounted display (HMD), internal tracking system, headphones and/pr microphone which form part of the interaction.

The sufferer wears this headset which displays images from a virtual environment. This enables them to be fully immersed and engaged with the environment. This environment will contain a series of scenarios which the person is exposed to with the aim of reducing their anxiety levels whenever they see a spider which will reduce their phobia.

This is a step by step process in which the sufferer works their way through different scenarios which contain spider/spiders and learn how to manage their fear and anxiety. These scenarios become more ‘difficult’ in the sense that the person is exposed to more of the source of their anxiety.

Each time they are faced with the source of their phobia they become more accustomed to it which also reduces their anxiety levels. Over time this erodes the link between trigger and reaction with the result that the phobia eventually disappears.

But if there is any relapse then the sufferer returns to an easier scenario until they have controlled their anxiety and feel ready to tackle a more challenging situation.

This virtual reality treatment may be combined with traditional forms of therapy: for example, the sufferer may be asked to touch a real spider or experience one placed on his/her hand.

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