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Unlearning Fear (A13)

The Press Department of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum reports on their newsportal: When the fear of spiders or heights gets so extreme that it interferes with everyday life, it makes sense to undergo cognitive-behavioural therapy. The approach works quite well, and it could become even more efficient.

Many people feel rather queasy at the sight of a spider. Not to mention that they avoid actually touching arachnids – despite the fact that fear of spiders is irrational in most parts of the world today; in Germany, for example, there is no species of spider that could do any serious harm to a human. Still, some people suffer from an extreme fear of spiders. Researchers at the Psychotherapy Centre at Ruhr-Universität Bochum are exploring ways of treating phobias in an effective and sustainable manner.

A tried-and-tested approach is exposure therapy, where the patient is exposed to the anxiety source under therapeutic supervision. “Exposure therapy works really well and is more effective for the treatment of phobias than drug therapy,” says Armin Zlomuzica (Project Leader A13). “But there’s still room for improvement.” This is because not all treated patients benefit from this approach to the same extent. Consequently, the SFB 1280 researches how the therapy could be rendered more effective, using the extinction learning model for the purpose.


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