Innovation That Matters

The new smartphone app is called Phobys and makes exposure therapy available to arachnophobic through an AR interface. The app projects images of moving spiders onto a person’s surrounding environment. | Photo source University of Basel, MCN

New smartphone app uses augmented reality to treat fear of spiders

Health & Wellbeing

The new smartphone app, which projects images of moving spiders onto a person’s surrounding environment, has been found by research to significantly treat arachnophobia

Spotted:  Researchers at the University of Basel have developed a smartphone app that leverages augmented reality (AR) to reduce people’s fear of spiders.  

Around 5 percent of people have a phobia of spiders, a fear which is said to derive from our ancestors as a means of survival. Exposure therapy has been found to be effective at treating such phobias. The new smartphone app is called Phobys and makes exposure therapy available to arachnophobic sufferers through an AR interface. The app projects images of moving spiders onto a person’s surrounding environment.  

A study carried out over a two-week period to test the effectiveness of the app found that it was effective at reducing sensations of fear and disgust. The study has been published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. The cohort for the trial consisted of 66 subjects, with either clinical or subclinical arachnophobia. Forty-four participants were instructed to conduct six 30-minute sessions over the two-week period. The 22 remaining participants served as a control and did not receive any intervention. 

A behavioral assessment to measure fear and aversion to real spiders was measured at baseline and at the end of the study. The result reported that using the app was effective in reducing participants’ fear of spiders. 

The study reports that “app use led to reductions in fear, disgust, and avoidance behaviors at medium-sized effects when tested in a real-world situation, and to reductions at large effects sizes in questionnaire-based fear measures.”

After further development and independent commercialisation, the smartphone app is now available for both Apple and Android smartphones.  

Written By: Katrina Lane

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