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Single-session gamified virtual reality exposure therapy for spider phobia vs. traditional exposure therapy: study protocol for a randomized controlled non-inferiority trial
Stockholm University, Sweden.
Stockholm University, Sweden; Karolinska Institute, Sweden.
Stockholm University, Sweden; Mimerse, Sweden.
Stockholm University, Sweden.
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2016 (English)In: Trials, ISSN 1745-6215, E-ISSN 1745-6215, Vol. 17, no 60Article in journal (Refereed) PublishedText
Abstract [en]

Background: Traditional one-session exposure therapy (OST) in which a patient is gradually exposed to feared stimuli for up to 3 h in a one-session format has been found effective for the treatment of specific phobias. However, many individuals with specific phobia are reluctant to seek help, and access to care is lacking due to logistic challenges of accessing, collecting, storing, and/or maintaining stimuli. Virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy may improve upon existing techniques by facilitating access, decreasing cost, and increasing acceptability and effectiveness. The aim of this study is to compare traditional OST with in vivo spiders and a human therapist with a newly developed single-session gamified VR exposure therapy application with modern VR hardware, virtual spiders, and a virtual therapist. Methods/design: Participants with specific phobia to spiders (N = 100) will be recruited from the general public, screened, and randomized to either VR exposure therapy (n = 50) or traditional OST (n = 50). A behavioral approach test using in vivo spiders will serve as the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures will include spider phobia questionnaires and self-reported anxiety, depression, and quality of life. Outcomes will be assessed using a non-inferiority design at baseline and at 1, 12, and 52 weeks after treatment. Discussion: VR exposure therapy has previously been evaluated as a treatment for specific phobias, but there has been a lack of high-quality randomized controlled trials. A new generation of modern, consumer-ready VR devices is being released that are advancing existing technology and have the potential to improve clinical availability and treatment effectiveness. The VR medium is also particularly suitable for taking advantage of recent phobia treatment research emphasizing engagement and new learning, as opposed to physiological habituation. This study compares a market-ready, gamified VR spider phobia exposure application, delivered using consumer VR hardware, with the current gold standard treatment. Implications are discussed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
BIOMED CENTRAL LTD , 2016. Vol. 17, no 60
Keyword [en]
Specific phobia; Exposure therapy; Spiders; Virtual reality; Serious games; Gamification
National Category
Basic Medicine
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-125295DOI: 10.1186/s13063-016-1171-1ISI: 000369139300002PubMedID: 26833396OAI: diva2:906405

Funding Agencies|Swedish Research Council [2011-2913]; [2013-1107]

Available from: 2016-02-24 Created: 2016-02-19 Last updated: 2016-03-15

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