A group of researchers at the University of Basel has developed an augmented reality (AR) application for smartphones that can help people reduce their fear of spiders.
According to scientists, the app has already proven its effectiveness in a clinical trial, where subjects experienced less fear of real spiders after completing a few training units with the app at home.
The application developed by the researchers has been called Phobys, which is based on exposure therapy and relies on a realistic 3D spider model that is projected in the real world.
“People with a fear of spiders find it easier to deal with a virtual spider than a real one,” explains Anja Zimmer, lead author of the study.
The team in charge analyzed the effectiveness of Phobys in a clinical trial involving 66 people.
After two weeks, participants with fear of spiders completed six half-hour training units with the app. In the case of the control group, no intervention was offered.
Before and after the treatment, the subjects approached a real spider in a transparent box as close as their fear of spiders allowed them.
The group that had trained with Phobys showed significantly less fear and disgust in the actual spider situation and were able to get closer to the spider than the control group.
The Phobys app offers nine different levels for subjects to get up close to and even interact with the virtual spider.
With each level, the tasks become more intense and therefore more difficult. Each level ends with an assessment of their own fear and disgust, and the app decides whether the level should be repeated or the user can move on to the next.
The app also makes use of game elements, such as reward feedback, animation, and sound effects, to maintain a high level of motivation among users.