Scientists use augmented reality spiders to help fight arachnophobia


Practice hanging out with spiders without actually hanging out with spiders with the Phobys app.

University of Basel, MCN

As a child and a young adult, I was afraid of spiders. Jump out of my skin, fear flee into another room. I fought against fear. I’ve been researching spiders. I have to understand you. I even have to like them. For people who are still struggling with some level of arachnophobia, help may be available in the form of a new app.

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have developed Phobys, an augmented reality app that aims to carry out “exposure therapy” so that arachnophobes can counter their fear in a safe and controlled manner.

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“For people with spider fear, it is easier to face a virtual spider than a real one,” said Anja Zimmer, lead author of a study on the app published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders in August, in a statement on Monday.

The research team conducted a two-week clinical study involving 66 participants who feared spiders. Some of the participants used the app to process a series of encounters with an AR spider, while others acted as a control group with no app interactions. Participants were then asked to get as close as possible to a real spider in a clear box.

That’s a pretty realistic looking spider in the Phobys AR app.

Screenshot of the Phobys app by Amanda Kooser / CNET

“The group that had trained with Phobys showed significantly less fear and disgust in the real 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 that users can work through with ratings at the end of each level. It starts with a brief “test your fear” experience to give you a baseline fear / disgust from which to operate.

The app is “suitable for people who suffer from a slight, clinically insignificant fear of spiders who are at least 16 years old”. The researchers say anyone with severe anxiety – which can manifest itself with symptoms such as sweating or palpitations – should consult a specialist before using the app.

Others came up with similar ideas, like Anna Chakravorty, a fine arts student at the University of Alberta, who came up with design concepts for an AR Spider game project. Another approach can be seen with the Arachnophobia app that uses cartoon spiders. The lifelike Phobys AR spider enhances the experience.

I’m not going to spoil the way the app works, but when it comes to holding your phone, make sure you follow the directions.


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