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 Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

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: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

Leipzig HTP-Forum discusses "hydrothermal processes" as a key technology for a biobased economy

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

Researchers create new technique for manipulating polarization of terahertz radiation

20.07.2017 | Information Technology

High-tech sensing illuminates concrete stress testing

20.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>