YPIE Scientist: Gabriel

Research: Single-Session Gamified Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy For Spider Phobia vs. Traditional Exposure Therapy

Mentor: Ben Cohen


Arachnophobia is an excessive fear of spiders that affects 5% of the population. This can affect everyday life as many live in constant fear trying to avoid those certain scenarios, and some can suffer extreme phobic symptoms. The purpose of this research is to determine whether virtual reality exposure therapy is a viable treatment option compared to in-vivo exposure therapy. Using Unity, C#, and VRChat, an environment was created where participants within the virtual environment group complete gamified tasks that revolve around realism-increasing interactions with spiders. The virtual reality headsets provided allow the users to interact with the virtually created setting. After three sessions of thirty minutes, the Fear of Spiders Questionnaire was administered. The same procedure was performed with the in-vivo exposure group, however, this time within an actual environment that featured real spiders increasing in size. After both groups filled out the questionnaire, the results were compared to see if virtual reality is an effective treatment option in comparison to in-vivo exposure. Results demonstrated an improvement in FSQ scores among participants within the virtual reality group. The FSQ uses a point-based system where intense phobic symptoms are logged with high scores. These scores range from zero, indicating an absence of fear, and 125 a high level of fear. Nearly half the participants demonstrated a decrease in fear. One participant, in particular, obtained a score of 97 pre-treatment and 32 after. The results of this experiment determined that VRET may demonstrate equal effect on phobia symptoms compared with successful in vivo exposure therapy.

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