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Augmented Reality Helps People To Overcome The Fear Of Spiders!

Phobys is an augmented reality based app which helps people to get over their mortal fear of spiders (Pic. Courtesy smithsonianmag.com)

There is a sizable number of people who don’t like spiders. It could be due to their appearance or the fact that some of them have a painful bite, even though ordinarily very few can identify the ones that hurt and those who don’t.

Yet, there is another section of the populace who are scared beyond limits of spiders. The mere sight of them sends a terror in their heart, virtually leaving them paralysed and panicky and causing apprehension and uneasiness. This extraordinary fear is called arachnophobia and it has a debilitating effect on an estimated five per cent of those people affected by it.

To help such people get over this phobia, now there is an app. Developed by Switzerland based University of Basel researchers, it is a smartphone programme using augmented reality (AR) which helps people overcome their overwhelming fear of spiders.

It may be noted that the app’s researchers have stated categorically that it is designed “for those who suffer from a mild, clinically insignificant fear of spiders who are at least 16 years of age.” Thus it needs to be remembered that those persons who suffer an extreme form of this phobia which is severe, should and must consult a doctor before they decide to use the app.

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The creators of this app have named it as Phobys. It exhibits a 3-D spider model on the real-world images which are viewed through the smartphone of the user and this is a part of the exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy is a cognitive behavioural treatment that is created to help ease the discomfort by introducing the detested and feared item or object gradually.

According to an article in smithsonianmag.com, in a study by researchers which was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Anxiety Disorders, it is said that those who used the app Phobys showed “significantly less fear compared to those in the control group”. This was mentioned in a report written by Margaret Davis for the Science Times.

Amanda Kooser of CNET has in her report stated that the app using AR, casts a spider’s image on whatever is being seen through the camera of the smartphone. This method gradually helps the person suffering from arachnophobia to come face to face with their fear in a slow and gradual manner.

The study’s lead author Anja Zimmer observed: “It’s easier for people with a fear of spiders to face a virtual spider than a real one.” Zimmer is a PhD candidate at the university’s Division of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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At the clinical trial this app was tested on 66 patients by the scientists and this trial lasted for two weeks. Following the completion of the trial, all those who participated were made to view a live spider in a see-through box. This was done in order to see and study their reaction.

The study on this aspect stated: “We report that repeated home-use of the stand-alone, smartphone-based, gamified AR exposure app was effective in the reduction of phobic fear in participants with fear of spiders. Specifically, the app use led to reductions in fear, disgust and avoidance behaviour at medium effect sizes when tested in a real-life situation, and to reductions at large effect sizes in questionnaire-based fear measures.”

The app Phobys which costs $5 can be downloaded from the iPhone and Android app stores and it comes in 10 levels of therapy with the objective of overcoming the fear of spiders.

Interestingly, those who are not too frightened of spiders but eager to know more about them can check out the “Shazam” type app released in 2020. In this users can click the spider and then compare the image with the ones in the database of the app to know more about them. It may or may not help in overcoming the fear or disgust but does definitely give one a clue whether the species is dangerous or not and does it need to be crushed or not.