News Release

Therapy against spider fear can also reduce fear of heights


Peer-Reviewed Publication

Ruhr-University Bochum

View into the depths


Once one fear has been conquered, this can also have an effect on other fears.


view more 

Credit: © RUB, Kramer

A number of anxiety disorders are co-morbid

“Anxiety rarely comes alone,” says Iris Kodzaga, lead author of the study. “Patients who suffer from one fear often subsequently develop another.” The most effective treatment method is exposure: By confronting the fear-inducing situations or stimuli under psychotherapeutic supervision, patients learn to overcome their fear.

“It was long assumed that if a person had multiple fears, they would require multiple exposure therapies tailored to their specific fear,” explains Kodzaga. The Bochum-based team is now challenging this assumption. The researchers measured fear of spiders and heights in 50 test subjects before and after exposure therapy targeting spider fear. Measures included subjective data from specific questionnaires for fear of spiders and heights. In addition, the researchers collected quantitative behavioral measures, such as how close the participants dared to approach the spiders or how far they could climb a high church tower.

Therapy methods could become more universal

Exposure therapy for spider fear not only reduced the fear of spiders, but also the fear of heights. A significant effect emerged in both the subjective and behavioral measures: Fear of heights decreased by an average of 15 percent as a result of exposure to spiders.

“The discovery that exposure to spiders also reduces fear of heights opens up new perspectives for the efficient treatment of phobias,” says Iris Kodzaga. “It could mean that we can rethink therapeutic approaches and possibly develop more universal methods.”

How exactly this effect is transferred from one fear to another is still unclear. “The effect can’t be fully explained by associative learning processes. The generalization effect might be due to an increase in self-efficacy as a result of exposure therapy,” says the researcher. “But perhaps there is also a common denominator between fear of spiders and fear of heights that’s not obvious. We’ll need to conduct follow-up studies to find out more.”

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.