A new therapy developed by a professor from Northwestern University permanently alters arachnophobia afflicted people’s brain response to spiders.After two hours, the patients’ brains responded differently to spiders, said Katherina Hauner, the neurologist at Northwestern who led the study. And in six months, they were able to touch or hold a spider with their bare hands.
Fear of spiders is one of the most common anxiety disorders, affecting 7 per cent of the U.S. population, according to the study.
Hauner studied 12 adults with severe fear of spiders:
The therapy involved gradually approaching the spider. Before the session, the participants were even afraid to look at photos of spiders. When they did, the regions of the brain associated with fear response – the amygdala, insula, and cingulate cortex – lit up with activity in an fMRI scan. Next, when asked to attempt to touch a tarantula in a closed terrarium or approach it as closely as possible, they were not able to get closer than 10 feet on average.
They gradually learned to approach the tarantula in slow steps until they were able to touch the outside of the terrarium. Then they touched the tarantula with a paintbrush, a glove and eventually pet it with their bare hands or held it.
Hauner said one of the most surprising aspects of the study was that many patients became attached to Florence the tarantula.
And the therapy could extend beyond just those afraid of spiders–the bigger implication is that if people face their fears, they find they’re not so bad.
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