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Virtual reality (VR) lets people act within and upon computer-generated environments, making it ideal for exposure therapy and some other forms of mental health treatment. In addition to representing stimuli with some degree of realism, a virtual environment (VE) lets users look at and interact with these things much as they would in the real world, using primarily their eyes and hands. This gives users a sense of physical as well as mental control over the things around them in the VE. SpiderWorld is one of a growing number of VEs that psychologists and VR researchers have begun to use to treat phobias and other anxiety disorders. SpiderWorld immerses the patient in a routine environmen-like a home kitchen-and introduces realistic-looking spiders that the patient can observe, manipulate or even squash as part of exposure therapy. Therapists who treat phobic patients often try to reduce anxiety by exposing a patient to the stimuli or situations that provoke the phobic reaction. Generating these as part of a VE promises a new approach to treatment-not to mention sparing some spiders their exoskeletons!
Date of Publication: Jul/Aug 1997