They are creepy, hairy, and move in swarms while turning whole rooms into silk tapestries. No wonder many of us suffer from arachnophobia. But a new app called Phobia Free promises relief from spider fears through a form of immersion therapy. Virtually Free CEO Andres Fonseca explained.
Metro: How much do we need this? Is arachnophobia that bad?
Fonseca: It affects up to 6 percent of the population and can be disabling. Some people cannot go to certain places, visit friends in the country, travel or go in their own lofts and cellars. It can be most dramatic with children.
So has your app been upsetting people?
We explain how it works at the beginning. The user is exposed to progressively more realistic spiders, starting with a cartoon that doesn’t scare anyone. The first stimulus to trigger a response is a cartoon that moves like a real spider, but most people can cope – or if not, there is a relaxation technique that comes with the app. Most of the comments are saying it's too slow or not scary enough. But the spiders become more realistic.
Was it difficult to simulate the scary behavior of a spider?
That was difficult to get right. We used people who suffer from spider-phobia to calibrate the appearance and movement. It’s the movements that trigger response, and the movements and animation were difficult. People can tolerate fear better if the spider is not realistic, such as with bright colors. We went to darker ones that trigger fear.
What phobias might you tackle next?
We already looking at others, and have a grant to develop an app for agoraphobia, which can be a chronic condition that stops people visiting crowded spaces, or even getting to a clinic. We also have plans for fear of flying and social phobia.