As a child and young adult, I was afraid of spiders. Jump-out-of-my-skin, flee-to-the-other-room afraid. I battled the fear. I researched spiders. I came to understand them. I even came to like them. For folks who still struggle with some degree of arachnophobia, though, a new app may offer help.
Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland developed Phobys, an augmented reality app that aims to deliver "exposure therapy" so the spider-phobic can face their fear in a safe and controlled way.
"It's easier for people with a fear of spiders to face a virtual spider than a real one," Anja Zimmer, lead author of a study on the app published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders in August, said in a statement on Monday.
The research team ran a two-week clinical trial with 66 participants who feared spiders. Some of the participants used the app to work through a series of encounters with an AR spider, while others acted as a control group with no app interactions. The participants were then asked to approach a real spider in a see-through box as close as they could handle.
"The group that had trained using Phobys showed significantly less fear and disgust in the real-life spider situation and was able to get closer to the spider than the control group," said the University of Basel.
The app, which costs $5 to unlock, has 10 levels users can work through with assessments at the end of each level. It starts off with a quick "test your fear" experience to give you a fear/disgust baseline to operate from.
The app is suitable "for those who suffer from a mild, clinically insignificant fear of spiders who are at least 16 years of age." The researchers say anyone with severe fear -- which can manifest with symptoms like sweating or heart palpitations -- should consult a specialist before using the app.
Others have floated similar ideas, like University of Alberta fine arts student Anna Chakravorty, who laid out design concepts for an AR spider game project. Another approach can be seen with the Arachnophobia app, which uses cartoon spiders. The lifelike Phobys AR spider ratchets up the experience.
I won't spoil how the app operates, but when it says to hold onto your phone tightly, make sure you're following the instructions.