Fear of heights
Fear of heights is a significant clinical problem for one in five people at some point in their lives, and most never receive treatment. Although VR has been used in the past for phobias, it has always required a therapist to guide the user through the treatment. In our fear of heights VR program the therapy is delivered by a computer-generated virtual coach. Treatment is personalised, with users able to interact with the virtual coach using voice recognition technology.
Our therapeutic approach is cognitive, focusing on the evaluation of threat predictions while dropping defensive behaviours, thereby helping the user to develop memories of safety that counteract fear associations.
In one of the largest ever randomised controlled trials of fear of heights treatments, one hundred people with a fear of heights were randomly allocated to our VR therapy or to no treatment. Participants had on average lived with a fear of heights for 30 years. Those who received the therapy spent an average of two hours in VR over five treatment sessions. All participants in the VR group showed a reduction in fear of heights, with the average reduction being 68.0%. Half of the participants in the VR group had a reduction in fear of heights by over three quarters. These results are better than those expected with the best psychological intervention delivered face to face with a therapist.