Study: Fear of Spiders May Be Cured in Two Minutes

Scared woman hiding in the forestAt least 30% of Americans have a fear of spiders, or arachnophobia. According to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry, just two minutes of therapy could eradicate that fear.

For most people, arachnophobia does not interfere with everyday life. In most natural habitats, however, people are usually not farther than a few feet from a spider. This means that for some people with arachnophobia, intrusive thoughts of spiders can become a chronic source of distraction and fear.

Treating Arachnophobia with Therapy

Lead researchers Marieke Soeter and Merel Kindt, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, wanted to explore whether memory reconsolidation, a treatment originally developed by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux for the treatment of posttraumatic stress, could treat arachnophobia. The concept behind reconsolidation is to change the way the brain processes memories that may be upsetting, thereby altering trauma-related thoughts and behaviors.

Soeter and Kindt recruited 45 subjects with arachnophobia. Each group was exposed to a tarantula for two minutes, resulting in a predicted fearful response. After being exposed to the spider, half of participants received a 40-milligram dose of propanolol. The other half received a placebo. Propanolol is a beta-blocker but has also been shown to have amnesic properties.

LeDoux’s idea of reconsolidation theorizes that fearful memories require protein synthesis in the brain’s amygdala. After these memories are retrieved, this protein synthesis makes the memories more susceptible to change, but only for a few hours. Thus treatment that occurs immediately after triggering the fear—as was the case with the people exposed to the tarantula—could help extinguish it.

As predicted, participants who received the beta-blocker experienced significant reduction in fear-related avoidance behavior. They were also more willing to approach spiders, even a year after the study.

Treatment Options for People with Phobias

Scientists have multiple approaches to treating fear. Some providers use cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, but this can require numerous sessions. Others offer a form of treatment called exposure therapy, which gradually exposes someone to a frightening stimulus. Though usually effective, these treatment options can be time-consuming and stressful.

The new study could offer a more cost-effective option for people seeking relief from phobias. More research is necessary to assess whether this treatment works with other phobias.

References:

  1. Buddle, C. (2012, June 5). You are always within three feet of a spider: Fact or Fiction? Retrieved from http://arthropodecology.com/2012/06/05/you-are-always-within-three-feet-of-a-spider-fact-or-fiction/
  2. Kaplan, J. S., PhD, & Toplin, D. F., PhD. (n.d.). Exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/anxiety/exposure-therapy-anxiety-disorders
  3. LeDoux, J. E. (2015). Anxious: Using the brain to understand and treat fear and anxiety. New York, NY: Viking.
  4. Whiteman, H. (2015, December 14). How a 2-minute therapy could help cure fear of spiders. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/304048.php

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  • Ernie

    Ernie

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    Sharing with all of the spider-phobes in my life!

  • Sybil

    Sybil

    December 16th, 2015 at 2:41 PM

    I am wondering if this is something that could help any phobia that frightens you or if it is specific to fear of spiders only. If so then there are probably a lot of people who would seek out this treatment because I am pretty sure that there are people who will not leave their houses due to extreme phobias.

  • aaron

    aaron

    December 17th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    If the only way to do this is to confront me with spiders, then I’m out.
    I’ll keep my fears

  • Calysta

    Calysta

    November 21st, 2018 at 6:26 PM

    Same, I can’t deal with spiders, and if treatment requires that, agggh, I’m just not going to do dat.

  • Francine

    Francine

    December 21st, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    Well I am normally not scared of them but the line about not being more than a few feet away from one at all times… well that just freaks me out a little!

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