The University of Tübingen, in Baden-Würtemmburg, south-western Germany, is conducting a six-year study for a spider phobia treatment that researchers hope will become the therapeutic standard, the university said in a statement on Tuesday.
In a study at the university's psychological institute, some 60 arachnophobes are undergoing examination and treatment in an attempt to ease their fear, the statement said.
The treatment doesn't use live spiders; project leader Svenja Tan Tjhen works with imagination techniques. Researchers use spider photos to measure bodily reactions like pulse and hormone excretion. During the relaxation exercises, patients imagine the palm-sized spiders crawling towards them, and then away again - a therapy based on the assumption that with phobias one needs to first feel fear before it can be relieved.
Researchers plan to finish the study in two years, and hope the short-term therapy will become the standard treatment for arachnophobia.
According to Tjhen, full-blown arachnophobia has led study participants to bizarre behaviour, like refusing to go into a cellar, or calling the police to remove a spider in their home. For many of these patients, the study is a last resort, she said.
Approximately 10 percent of the population suffers from a phobia, Tjhen said. Of the animal phobias, snakes and spiders are the most frequent, and more women suffer from spider phobia than men.
"Usually phobics who can no longer cope with their phobia come to us, some because their partners aren't willing to participate in their avoidance behavior," she said in the statement.
This kind of confrontation therapy is not new, Tjhen said. "We are studying the efficiency of of a particular variant of short-term intervention, that according to our positive findings, could be suitable for a standard therapy."