Fear of spiders ranks very high among the general population, and as a fellow arachnophobist myself, I completely understand their mortal fear of the many-legged creatures. But what if you could be cured in no more than 120 seconds?
What a ridiculous idea. Or is it? After all, wouldn’t you want to get over that phobia that’s been haunting both your waking life and your dreams for years, no matter how ridiculous it would sound? Well, trust this team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam that they can do it.
According to them, the idea is not only plausible, but now a proven and well-documented possibility. By adapting the idea of reconsolidation – essentially toying with the manipulation of memories and targeted control – the team thinks that even the most severe cases of arachnophobia could be gone in record time.
The whole experience has one downside – a deal-breaker for many of spider-fearing fellows out there: you have to be willing to spend a good bit of time bonding with a tarantula. According to data revealed in prior studies, administrating a specific drug at the moment of memories activation could lead to the annihilation of the fearful memory.
For the study, 45 individuals presenting relatively severe arachnophobia were asked to spend 2 minutes in the company of a huge spider, after which they were given a dose of propranolol.
The beta blocker that is traditionally used in the treatment of hypertension and heart conditions did wonders. For the purpose of having a control group, some of the participants were administered a placebo.
According to the researchers, the beta-blocker participants displayed “significant signs of reduced fear and anxiety toward spiders” over the next 12 months following the study. In other words, these subjects were less likely to avoid places where spiders might be presents and greater willingness to approach spiders than those on placebos.
As described by lead author Merel Kindt, this was the first time that “an amnesic drug given in conjunction with memory reactivation” replaced the avoidance behavior to approach behavior when it comes to spider phobia.
Severe phobias are usually treated with several therapy sessions of cognitive behavioral treatment, or – in the worst cases – with daily drug intake that seeks a gradual decline of symptoms. However, both these solutions are only temporary, whilst the proposed revolutionary intervention seems to lead to “a sudden, substantial and lasting loss of fear.”
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