Fear and avoidance of spiders were decreased after playing a game application involving spiders. The findings of this study were published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
Students (N=68) from Philipps-University in Germany were recruited to participate in this study. Students received a course credit or payment for participating.
The students were randomized to play the Spider App (n=37) or the Bubble Shooter (n=31) games twice a day for 7 days. All participants were assessed by the Spider Phobia Questionnaire (SPQ), Fear of Spiders Questionnaire (FAS), Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II), Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), and Behavioral Avoidance Test (BAT).
The Spider App began by explaining that spiders had escaped from a zoo and the participants needed to help catch them. The game had 2 tasks types (finding the spiders and guarding the spiders) which increased in complexity as levels were completed. After 25 trials, the number of rescued spiders was quantified, and participants were given feedback on their performance.
The Bubble Shooter game was a simple mobile game which resembled the Spider App in which the player shoots colored bubbles at the same color for them to disappear. It was chosen as a control condition due to its similarity.
BAT scores differed significantly among participants who played the spider game compared with the bubble game (F[1,62], 5.60; P =.021), by time since game play (F[2,93.7], 20.73; P <.001), and for the group by time interaction (F[2,93.7], 4.53; P =.013).
Compared with the control group, the treatment group had decreased behavioral avoidance directly after playing the game (P <.001) and at follow-up a week later (P <.001).
SPQ scores differed significantly for time since game play (F[2,77.44], 17.57; P <.001) and for the group by time interaction (F[2,77.44], 4.65; P =.012). The fear of spiders decreased following game play (P <.001) and at follow-up (P <.001) among those who played the spider game. However, the fear of spiders was also observed to decrease among the control group (P <.001).
Anxiety scores were observed to decrease over time (F[13,359.08], 5.00; P <.001), vary by group (F[1,60.12], 12.40; P =.001), and to have a time by group interaction (F[13,359.08], 5.18; P <.001). A similar pattern was observed for measures of disgust and arousal.
These changes of scores indicated that 17%-20% and 3%-7% of participants in the treatment and control groups, respectively, would likely touch a spider.
These mobile games did not have a significant effect on depression (P =.910) or psychological distress (P =.763).
This study may have been limited by the choice of control. Perhaps a more suitable control would have been a game which replaced the spiders with another creature.
The study authors concluded that a gamification of fearful objects may be a complement to psychotherapy as levels of anxiety, disgust, and arousal decreased after repeatedly playing the spider game.
Haberkamp A, Walter H, Althaus P, Schmuck M, Rief W, Schmidt F. Testing a gamified Spider App to reduce spider fear and avoidance. J Anxiety Disord. 2020;77:102331. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102331