Scientists have a augmented realityapp developed with which people with arachnophobia can tackle their fear. And that app works!

Spider fear or arachnophobia is common. And while many people may not be directly affected by it in their daily lives, the phobia can really limit some people. For example, for fear of spiders, they avoid certain areas in the house – the attic or a cellar – or do not dare to go to the zoo or travel to countries with oversized spiders.

Virtual Spiders

There is a treatment, but it will not immediately seem very attractive to people with arachnophobia. It requires that they consciously choose to be exposed to spiders of various sizes. The treatment works, but is not very popular for understandable reasons. And that’s why German researchers have come up with something different. This alternative treatment actually works the same as the traditional approach, except that the real spiders are exchanged for virtual ones.

Augmented Reality

For this alternative treatment, the researchers make clever use of augmented reality. Real and virtual images are combined here. In this case, there’s an app that lets you see the world around you as it is (that’s the real part). But for the treatment, a 3D spider is added to that world – which you view through your smartphone. “It’s easier for people with a fear of spiders to be exposed to a virtual spider instead of a real spider,” said researcher Anja Zimmer.


The treatment has a number of levels, whereby the distance between the app user and the spider is gradually reduced. And even working towards a situation in which interaction takes place between the user and the spider, for example by ‘allowing’ the virtual spider to walk over the hand. Each level ends with a kind of test, where the app checks how anxious the user is. Based on this, it is determined whether a user can continue to the next level or whether he still has to do some exercises in the current level.


To motivate users to complete the treatment, elements known from games have been added. Think of rewards for completing certain parts, sound effects and animations.


And the app works, as it points out research from. Zimmer and colleagues gathered 66 people with spider fears. The subjects were then instructed to walk towards a real spider enclosed in a transparent box. They had to decide for themselves how far they dared to approach the spider. Then the group was split in two. One group did nothing to remedy the fear of spiders. The other group worked with the app six times for half an hour. Then it was again examined how close the subjects dared to approach a real spider. The group that had practiced with the app appeared to be significantly less fearful of the spider and much closer to it than the group that had done nothing to overcome the spider fear.


The app – which bears the name Phobys – is now available for both iPhone and Android. People with a mild fear of spiders can work with it independently, the researchers say. But people who are extremely afraid of spiders prefer to do so under the watchful eye of a healthcare provider.

If it is up to the researchers, it will not stop at this one app. Possibly can augmented reality can also be used to cope with other phobias and mental problems.