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University of Alberta design student develops augmented reality arachnophobia program

A shot from the prototype program that U of A design student Anna Chakravorty developed as part of her thesis.
A shot from the prototype program that U of A design student Anna Chakravorty developed as part of her thesis. Supplied to Global News

Are you afraid of spiders? You might soon be able to get over your fear thanks to the work of an Alberta university student.

Design student Anna Chakravorty developed an augmented reality program as part of her master’s thesis that could be used in the future to help those with arachnophobia.

She chose the concept due to her own personal experiences with phobias.

“There are a lot of different types of phobias,” said Chakravorty, who completed the project as part of her graduate program in visual communication design at the University of Alberta.

“Height, water, public speaking… I myself am immensely scared of insects,” she said Saturday. “Honey bees are something I’m really scared of. If I hear a honey bee outside, I won’t go outside.”

READ MORE: ‘It was so thick’: B.C. woman’s giant spider photo horrifies, but experts say not to fear

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She said she chose augmented reality because it could be accessed easily by both patients and therapists in the future with technology most people have, like a smartphone. She also consulted with psychologists throughout the game’s development.

“You let the patient gradually expose themselves to spiders,” Chakravorty said. “The first level starts with this really cute animated spider and as you level up, as you manage your anxiety, the spider becomes more realistic.

“It’s designed on the principle of exposure therapy,” she said.

In the augmented reality format, the spiders start off cartoonish and slowly become more realistic.
In the augmented reality format, the spiders start off cartoonish and slowly become more realistic. Supplied to Global News

She added that it includes a focus on empathy, so patients aren’t actually encouraged to kill or destroy the spiders, which Charkravorty hopes will allow them to gradually be able to control their emotions when it comes to the specific phobias.

“When you have fear of something, you end up hating that thing,” Chakravorty said.

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“[Therapists can] control the exposure time, what kind of spider will come, whether the spider should jump on the patient.”
A shot from an augmented reality program designed by a University of Alberta student.
A shot from an augmented reality program designed by a University of Alberta student. Supplied to Global News

Even though her prototype is focused solely on arachnophobia, she believes it could be used for many types of phobias in the future.

The program also includes aspects meant specifically for therapists, such as an area to record patient reactions to each level of the program.

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Research review challenges where our fears are born
Research review challenges where our fears are born

Chakravorty said she needs to find a software developer to officially launch the program beyond the prototype stage.