Study: Fear of Spiders May Be Cured in Two Minutes

At 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.

Find a Therapist

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

© Copyright 2007 - 2022 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org.