Terrified of tarantulas? Does the idea of a daddy long-legs send you screaming for the nearest exit? What about exploding spider tornados, or when spiders show up by surprise in your fruit, or in your shoes, or in your bagged salad?
Okay, we’ll quit torturing you. The good news is, you might be able to finally conquer your fear of arachnids, thanks to the fabulous new technology that is virtual reality. The even better news: it will only take three hours.
You can thank Samsung for teaming up with the Swedish startup Mimerse to create the new VR program, called Itsy (very cute, no?). Mimerse is interested in exploring the use of VR technology in the overcoming of fears — CEO William Hamilton believes VR tech is the future of cognitive behavioral therapy, and fear of spiders was the first phobia they chose to tackle.
The program itself isn’t very scary. It’s based on the psychological method of having a person with a phobia face that fear in a three-hour session (called one-session exposure therapy) — but since it’s VR, it’s entirely harmless. “Itsy lets the user play games with spiders,” Hamilton told Uproxx via email. “At first, the spiders are cute and unrealistic but as the player progresses and learns to cope, the spiders’ realism increases. It has gameplay elements to ensure the user is focused on the spider when using the application.”
So you go from playing with a spider wearing a football helmet and a grin (isn’t he cute?) to playing with a much more realistic spider three hours later. And then, theoretically, you can move on to actual IRL spiders.
Does it work? So far, the results are promising. Mimerse and Samsung produced a series for YouTube of Itsy being trialled on four volunteers. At the end of their three-hour sessions, each of the volunteers were able to approach actual spiders without running away in fear.
Mimerse is also in the process of conducting a study comparing traditional one-session exposure therapy with actual therapists and actual spiders to the new gamified VR exposure therapy with virtual therapists and virtual spiders. The idea is that if VR exposure therapy is proven to be just as effective as traditional exposure therapy, more people with more phobias could be helped, and at a lower cost.
The good news is, you don’t have to wait until that study is done to get your hands on Itsy. It’s available right now for the Samsung Gear VR platform.
Check out part one of the Samsung/Mimerse experiment below: