App tackles fear of spiders via Augmented Reality

By Laura Berrill
Smartphone App helps tackle fear of spiders via Augmented Reality

Researchers from the University of Basel have developed an Augmented Reality app for smartphones in order to help people reduce their fear of spiders. The app has already been effective in a clinical trial, with subjects experiencing less fear of real spiders after completing training at home.

One currently effective treatment for the fear is ‘exposure therapy,’ in which patients are guided through therapeutic exposure in order to gradually break down their phobia. However this treatment is rarely used because those affected are reluctant to expose themselves to real spiders.

The team has developed a smartphone-based Augmented Reality app called Phobys. It is based on exposure therapy and uses a 3D spider model that is projected into the real world. 

Effectiveness in clinical trial

The clinical trial involved 66 subjects taking part over the course of two weeks. The participants either completed six half-hour training units with Phobys or not offered any intervention. Before and after treatment, they approached a real spider in a transparent box. The group that had trained using Phobys showed significantly less fear in the real-life spider situation and was able to get closer to it.

The Phobys app offers nine different levels so that subjects can get closer to and even interact with the virtual spider. With each level, the tasks become more intensive and therefore more difficult. The app also makes use of game elements, such as rewarding feedback, animation and sound effects, to maintain motivation.

Now available in app stores

Following refinement with the help of GeneGuide AG and its MindGuide Division, the app is now available in app stores for iPhones and Android smartphones. The app allows users to test whether they are afraid of a virtual spider for free, while the training to reduce their fear of spiders can be purchased.



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