AI to Fight Your Fear of Heights

Published on 7 April 2021 at 14:45

Are you afraid of heights? You might not be but someone you know probably is. In fact, it is estimated that 1 person out 15 suffers from acrophobia.


Being afraid of heights is to be distinguished from a mere apprehension of high places.


There is, to a certain extent, a natural instinct of survival which can justify part of the fear. natural selection. Perceiving something as being taller than it actually is could make you wary and increase your chances of survival and thus reproduction.


However, what is called ‘acrophobia’ can refer to panic and anxiety at the simple thought of a bridge or a mountain. A key aspect of it is the concrete avoidance of related situations. However, their phobia can be triggered even if they are not the ones exposed to heights. Their greatest fear in such situations of course is falling.


Interestingly enough though, studies have reported that acrophobia can have both genetics and environmental origins. A traumatizing life event might be the cause of such a pathology just as much as simple family inheritance or exposure to a certain behavior toward heights. If you have seen your parents nurture an irrational fear of heights or a particular apprehension towards them, chances are that might influence your judgment.


Traumatic triggering events can consist of: falling from a high place, or watching someone else do or having a negative experience while in a high place


Among the best cures figures progressive exposure. A cure for anxiety symptoms is considered for some patients. Virtual reality is the latest trend to help you fight such a fear.


Oxford VR, and the National Institute of Health Research Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre funded a research led by Prof Daniel Freeman PhD and others in 2018. One of the notable advantages of this method, in addition to avoiding direct physical contact of any kind is economic. As the research states in its introduction: “First, treatments can be automated and provided in VR, so a therapist does not need to be present.”

Cuttingr costs of treatment isn’t a guarantee of efficiency though.


Out of a group of 47 participants, 90% completed all the treatment exercises and only 6% did not complete the intervention, with two third finding the VR sessions too difficult.


In the VR group, 25 (51%) participants showed a reduction of 75% or greater, 38 (78%) had a reduction of 50% or greater, and 44 (90%) had a reduction of 25% or greater.


One surprising fact is that levels of discomfort were very low before entering VR for the first time and discomfort increased only slightly after being in VR


 ‘Virtual reality exposure therapy’ by B.O Rothbaum published in 2016 seems to suggest not only does VRE treatment better the condition of patients suffering from acrophobia, it also pushes them to test their own limits willingly and freely. It reported: “7 of the 10 VRE therapy patients who completed treatment willingly placed themselves in height situations in real life during treatment, although they were not instructed to do.”


This isn’t only about graded exposure though. These experiments often rely on the teaching of anxiety management techniques at first. Of course, you wouldn’t want to put people through painful situations without giving them any keys to undergo them.


This technique has been successfully tested on people afraid of flying on airplanes and have proven to have results that last in time, generally for a year.


VR exposure has proven to be as effective as ex vivo exposure. However, Augmented Reality offers other advantages which Virtual Reality doesn’t.


In 2006, the MIT’s journal reported a study from the University of Valencia and University Jaume I on augmented reality in the treatment of acrophobia which led to distinguish the following advantages of AR compared to VR treatment: “ In the specific case of acrophobia, to create different locations of high quality is extremely costly in VR. Furthermore, although VR applications could include avatars that simulate participants’ bodies, participants cannot see their own feet, hands, and so forth, whereas in AR application they can.”


In any case, new technologies and in particular Artificial Intelligence can be helpful in providing an effective treatment to phobias, though, maintaining a part of therapy seems necessary to tackle the anxiety related to such.

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