Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Touch doubles the power of VR therapy for spider phobia

31.10.2003


Just in time for Halloween, a new study of the use of virtual reality to treat spider phobia indicates that touching the fuzzy creepy-crawlers can make the therapy twice as effective.


Grabbing a virtual spider. Researchers report that adding touch to a VR program to decrease spider phobia appears to double the effectiveness of the therapy.
Photo credit: Hunter Hoffman, University of Washington




Researchers at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab measured aversion and anxiety responses of students, some of whom had a clinical phobia of spiders, before and after undergoing VR therapy. During the therapy, some of the subjects touched a realistic model of a large spider while grasping a virtual one. Those participants were able to come twice as close to a real spider after completing three therapy sessions, and reported a greater decrease in anxiety during treatment, than those who underwent VR therapy alone.

The study, titled "Interfaces that Heal: Coupling Real and Virtual Objects to Treat Spider Phobia," will be published tomorrow in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction (vol. 16, No. 2).


"This is significant for VR therapy," according to Hunter Hoffman, research scientist at the HIT Lab and lead author on the study. "It indicates that tactile augmentation reinforces all aspects of the virtual environment. If you introduce touch for one aspect, people seem to transfer that sense of reality to the rest of the virtual world. It’s an easy and cost-effective way to make the VR treatment program more effective.

"And, since we’re talking about spiders, which I think most of us find a little creepy, it seems very appropriate that this particular paper come out on Halloween," he added.

Successful phobia treatment requires the elicitation of an anxiety response during treatment. Proponents say VR therapy has a number of advantages over traditional "immersion" therapy for phobias. For one, the patient and the therapist have complete control over the feared object. VR also allows patients to confront fears that aren’t easy to simulate because of geography or cost – fear of heights or flying, for example. VR also offers complete confidentiality, since the fears need not be confronted where others might be watching.

In addition, VR treatment tends to be more attractive to patients because they don’t have to actually face the feared object, such as a live spider, Hoffman said. "So VR is likely to increase the proportion of phobia sufferers who seek treatment."

In conducting the study, researchers recruited student volunteers from an undergraduate psychology class. More than 400 students filled out questionnaires that assessed the presence and level of spider phobia, and 36 who registered as fearing spiders more than average were chosen to participate. Of those 36 participants, eight reported reactions strong enough to classify as clinically phobic.

Before and after the therapy, participants answered six questions designed to measure their anxiety about spiders. To help measure the severity of their phobia, subjects were also asked to enter a room with a live tarantula, housed in a terrarium, and asked to approach the hairy spider. When they had walked as close to the tarantula as they could, their distance from the spider was measured and they were asked to rate their anxiety on a scale of 1-10.

The participants were then randomly assigned to three groups: one that received VR therapy alone, one that received VR therapy with the addition of touch, and one that received no therapy at all.

The VR therapy groups went through three sessions in a virtual space dubbed "SpiderWorld." After each session, students rated how real the experience seemed.

During the first session, participants navigated a virtual kitchen and, in the course of exploring, came across a virtual spider, which scurried away. The goal of session one was to get within arm’s reach of the cyber-spider.

During session two, participants picked up a "spider bucket." When they set the bucket down, a large animated spider with wiggly legs emerged, accompanied by brief scary music, then drifted to the floor. The students practiced picking up the bucket and having their close call with the spider until they became accustomed to it.

In the last session, participants were asked to reach out and grab the image of a fist-size Guyana bird-eating tarantula using a virtual hand. In real life, the students in the VR-only group grasped air. But when the students in the VR-plus-touch group grabbed the virtual spider, their real hand simultaneously grasped a fuzzy model of the tarantula attached to a position-sensing mount.

"For them, the virtual spider was furry and solid," said Hoffman.

On average during post-therapy tests, participants in the VR-only group who approached to within 5 feet of the living tarantula before treatment were able to close that distance to 2.5 feet afterward. But those who experienced touch with the VR therapy were able to come to within six inches of the tarantula. In addition, their anxiety level was significantly lower than the VR-only group.

"The tactile augmentation seemed to blur the distinction between what is real and what is virtual," Hoffman said. "That likely helped to increase the transfer of the virtual training to the real world."

Other authors of the study include Albert Carlin and Thomas Furness of the UW HIT Lab, and Azucena Garcia-Palacios and Cristina Botella-Arbona of Universidad Jaume I in Castellion, Spain. The International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction is a publication of Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

The research was funded by the Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research and the Pla de Promocio de la Investigacio, Fundacio Caixi Castello-Bancaixa 1998.

Rob Harrill | University of Washington
Further information:
http://www.hitl.washington.edu/people/hunter/
http://www.washington.edu/newsroom/news/2003archive/10-03archive/k103003.html

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

nachricht Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Treating arthritis with algae

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Witnessing turbulent motion in the atmosphere of a distant star

23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>