Fear of spiders is very common. Many people experience a high level of discomfort, disgust or even panic when they see a spider.
But why? Yes, there are some spiders that are poisonous, so there is an evolutionary reason to feel uncomfortable or even be afraid of them to protect ourself from harm.
But phobic fear is more than that even though rationally there is no obvious reason to freak out so much. Yes, their movement is weird and uncontrollable, they have eight legs, catch their food in nets and frankly they are not the most appealing creatures. But most spiders are harmless and should be more afraid of us than the other way around.
The fear of spiders can also develop through other ways. Maybe there was a traumatic experience with one, an experience that is now deeply rooted in our memory and changed the way we feel about spiders. Maybe we watched our parents or other family members or friends react scared or disgusted and we therefore learned to be afraid of spiders as well.
People affected rarely seek professional help. They might be highly reluctant to confront their fear of spiders, or don't see the need to do something about it and have adapted their lives accordingly, accepting limitations in daily-life and the negative impact it can have on social activities. This all might impair the quality of life in general.
But there are ways to reduce this fear and that's where Phobys comes in!
When you encounter a spider you might get scared and run away. Then your fear declines which leaves you relieved. But this irrational fear will probably come back every time you see a spider.
One very effective treatment is exposure therapy. During an exposure therapy session you will spend a longer time with a spider, observing it, approaching it and even interacting with it. Most likely, your fear will first increase and even stay. But then you will notice your fear gradually, and all by itself, subsiding – which is such a rewarding experience.
And that is exactly what you will experience with Phobys! The smartphone app Phobys combines evidence-based treatment approaches for phobias with augmented reality technology.
As in conventional exposure therapy you will be exposed to spiders step by step. The spider is virtually added to the real world through your camera. While you work through 10 levels, you will build up a feeling of safety. After mastering the 10 levels, this feeling of safety should become stronger than the original fear. In consequence, the phobic response, your avoidance behavior and your disgust will most likely be reduced when confronted with real spiders.
If you use the app repeatedly, you might even grow fond of the spider and – we promise – the spider is definitely fond of you.
The app offers two free tests to see whether you are afraid of a virtual spider. And then, at low-cost, you can purchase the training we've come up with to help you reduce your fear of spiders. If you suffer from a severe phobia, we recommend that you don't use Phobys on your own.
We tested the effectiveness of the app Phobys in a randomized controlled study at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Participants of this study either completed a training at home with the app Phobys (6 x 30 minute sessions over a 2-weeks span) or were allocated to a control group, which did not complete any training sessions.
Before and after the training phase their fear of spiders was tested in a real-life situation, approaching a real spider as far as their fear allowed them. They also filled out several questionnaires regarding their fear, disgust, behavior and thoughts about spiders.
The participants in the group using Phobys showed a significant reduction of fear and disgust of spiders – both in the real-life situation and the questionnaires!
Phobys has therefore shown to be an effective way to reduce fear of spiders.
Phobys was developed by the
Transfaculty Research Platform
Anja Zimmer, M. Sc. in Psychology
Dr. Nan Wang, Software development
Merle Ibach, Design
Phobys is available for iOS 11.0 or higher and
Android 8.0 or higher and only supported by augmented reality (AR) enabled devices.