Fight spider phobia with an app

Your heart stops when eight hairy legs crawl along the wall? Can’t think of anything else? A clear case of arachnophobia. And that’s what an AR app wants to take away from those affected.

You should face your fears. Easier said than done. People with a spider phobia are particularly reluctant to expose themselves to real spiders. Neuroscientists at the University of Basel have therefore developed an app that allows fear training with augmented reality (AR). This means that if you point the smartphone camera at your hand, for example, you can see a spider sitting on it. But only on the display and not in reality.

With virtual spiders, many more sufferers dare to confront them, the researchers found. The app has already proven its worth in a clinical study: After just a few training sessions at home, the subjects would have felt less fear of real spiders.

Spider app not for pronounced phobics

Whether one is afraid of virtual spiders can be tested for free in the English-language app called “Phobys” ( Android and iOS). The training to reduce arachnophobia costs five euros as an in-app purchase. Sufferers with mild forms of arachnophobia can use the app on their own if they are at least 16 years old, the scientists advise. People with a pronounced arachnophobia, on the other hand, should only use it with medical professional guidance.

The training reportedly consists of nine different levels in which you gradually get closer to the virtual spider and eventually interact with it. With each level, the tasks are supposed to become more intense and difficult.

Measuring one’s own disgust

Each level within the spider app ends with an evaluation of one’s own fear and disgust. Based on these, the application decides whether a level needs to be repeated. To keep phobics motivated, there is positive feedback in between, as well as rewarding animations and sound effects.