Exposure therapy is one well known technique used to treat people’s phobias, but the knowledge that one will have to face the actual source of the fear may be too much for someone to even consider starting. A team of Spanish scientists has now shown that using special glasses to overlay virtual cockroaches onto one’s field of view resulted in real anxiety in six women who truly hate the pesky buggers.
From the article abstract:

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Augmented reality (AR) is a new technology in which various virtual elements are incorporated into the user’s perception of the real world. The most significant aspect of AR is that the virtual elements add relevant and helpful information to the real scene. AR shares some important characteristics with virtual reality as applied in clinical psychology. However, AR offers additional features that might be crucial for treating certain problems. An AR system designed to treat insect phobia has been used for treating phobia of small animals, and positive preliminary data about the global efficacy of the system have been obtained.

However, it is necessary to determine the capacity of similar AR systems and their elements that are designed to evoke anxiety in participants; this is achieved by testing the correspondence between the inclusion of feared stimuli and the induction of anxiety. The objective of the present work is to validate whether the stimuli included in the AR-Insect Phobia system are capable of inducing anxiety in six participants diagnosed with cockroach phobia. Results support the adequacy of each element of the system in inducing anxiety in all participants.

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