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Using Augmented Reality To Treat Cockroach Phobia 126

RichDiesal writes "In this blog post, I describe a new use for augmented reality — treating people for cockroach phobia. A recent paper in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking discusses a system where people suffering from cockroach phobia sit at a desk with a virtual reality headset. The headset has a camera on the front so that patients see the desk they're sitting at — but covered in cockroaches. In the study, researchers managed to elicit a fear response to virtual cockroaches similar to what would be experienced with real cockroaches. Sounds like a little slice of hell to me."


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Using Augmented Reality To Treat Cockroach Phobia

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  • by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @11:53PM (#32233128) Homepage



    • Funny thing is, practitioners of neurolinguistic programming(NLP) have been treating and curing(though the FDA, etc. have problems with non-doctors using that word..fuck 'em) phobias in under 5 minutes for close to 30 years. The first person I ever worked with had a phobia of cockroaches and in 5 minutes she was able to function normally; she even petted one of the roaches to prove it wasn't faked.

      • Let me know when this works with needles.

        I have needle phobia that manifests itself mostly with IVs and blood draws. I have to give myself IM injections every week but that doesn't bother me near as much, but the needle phobia makes me put off going to a doctor to the point where I'll cancel appointments.

        • It should work with needles no problem. See if you can find an NLP practitioner in your area and they can walk you through it pretty quickly.

  • Virtual reality is virtually real.

    On topic though, that image alone is enough to make me slightly uncomfortable.

    • What I don't get is why they bothered with VR glasses at all! Surely a few tabs of acid would have the same effect...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Iron Condor ( 964856 )

      Virtual reality is virtually real.

      Is it now? I seem to be getting rather mixed messages.

      If it is possible to desensitize folks from strong reactions to roaches using exposure to virtual roaches, why is it somehow absurd to suggest that people are desensitized from strong reactions to violence by exposure to violence in video games? Just asking this question usually gets me modded to hell and back (usually troll or flamebait) but I've yet to see a coherent argument supporting such an odd schism. Virtual exposure to heights, desensitizes pe

      • If it is possible to desensitize folks from strong reactions to roaches using exposure to virtual roaches, why is it somehow absurd to suggest that people are desensitized from strong reactions to violence by exposure to violence in video games? Just asking this question usually gets me modded to hell and back (usually troll or flamebait) but I've yet to see a coherent argument supporting such an odd schism.

        I haven't wanted to believe it, but yeah, more and more I have to think that videogame violence desen

      • If it is possible to desensitize folks from strong reactions to roaches using exposure to virtual roaches, why is it somehow absurd to suggest that people are desensitized from strong reactions to violence by exposure to violence in video games?

        Your question is a well chosen one sir, although I think that the standard slashdotter mentality remains correct on these points. The seeming paradox comes from differing kinds of "sensitivity" one is being "desensitized" to.

        Specifically, virtual immersion in a situation can desensitize you to a debilitating phobia quite effectively, but we are arguing that it has no significant impact on desensitizing a person's moral compass. Exposure to bloody and violent games may allow a person the clarity of mind to n

  • by jsse ( 254124 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:03AM (#32233214) Homepage Journal
    I've got cockroach phobia when I was young chasing by a huge flying cockroach like you've seen in some cheap horror movies. It actually knocked me off and took me to its nest to feed its kids. (Ok, the nest part might be in my imagination but it was so real).

    For all those years I tried to fight the phobia, say fighting them, killing them, catching them bare hand and even change my facebook profile photo to cockroach.

    All in vain, I tell you what. The only thing that could help us is to find a place where no cockroach can be seen to live. I'm at peace for many years.

    Now you slashdot put a large freaking photo of cockroaches in the news that broke my nerves. I need to transfer to intensive care unit for severe phobia. Thanks a bunch ass-
    • In fairness, considering the relationship between exposure to cockroach droppings and asthma in studies of the children of the urban poor, maybe the fear of cockroaches is well-founded.

    • I lived in an apartment in the back of my comic store in Lemoore, CA for a couple of years. the building was about 80 years old, with walls that were about 2' thick. constant, giant cockroaches. the only thing that would slow them down was LIGHT.... very, very bright lights. no shadows. I had continual blinding light while I slept for 2 years.

      it took me almost 10 years, and a move to the other side of the country, before I could sleep with the lights off without thinking about it.

      So, yeah. I agree. Cockroac

  • It does work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:06AM (#32233230) Homepage

    Well, both flooding and gradual accomodation certainly works to get rid of a phobia (though it will tendency to return in some situations). You have to be really motivated to get rid of your phobia to even consider this kind of treatment, though, and for most sufferers (I'm one of them) their phobia just isn't bothersome or debilitating enough to go through with this.

    • True. Besides, our sense of disgust has survived in us for a reason. Most things that disgust us prevent us from touching, smelling, eating ... well, you get my drift. As such, a strong survival tool. I would try to preserve that sense of disgust (in a rational way - stay away from a disgusting *anything* but you don't have to go into hysterics and bring the roof down yeah?) unless your job is head cockroach wrangler in a research lab, in which case you're probably in the wrong line of work. But I digress.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by JanneM ( 7445 )

        Though remember that phobia is pretty much defined as an inappropriately strong aversion to something. It is not rational - when fear is rational it's not a phobia. So a phobia is a disorder; the question is just whether it is debilitating enough (or at all) that it warrants any kind of treatment. And that depends on your own lifestyle as much as on the strength of the phobia. A snake phobia, for instance, is likely no problem if you live and work in a northern city. If you work as a tropical-zone farmer on

        • Further, if a phobia/disorder is not debilitating enough or interfering with your day to day functioning then it technically is not a disorder; it cannot really be diagnosed and coded and treated because it is not interfering with your life. So technically, a phobia is not a disorder until it sufficiently interferes with your life or bothers you enough that you are worried about it. I'm not contradicting your post, I'm agreeing with you; I'm just pointing out that a phobia really is not a disorder until it
    • I once met a young woman at a late-summer outdoor gathering who twitched every so often. I looked closer, and it seemed that she didn't like bees. I inquired, and indeed, she'd been terrified of flying yellow bugs ever since she and her sister were attacked by a swarm when she was 12 years old.

      It'd been 10+ years, she'd been to counseling, etc, but still no relief.

      I was an amateur people-fixer then (this was 7 years ago), so I offered to help... After fumbling through a few different strategies, I remembere

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2010 @01:36AM (#32233772)

        I'm sure you are and were very well-intentioned, but amateur counseling based on pop psychology is akin to amateur surgery with a shotgun.
        You might consider a hobby with less potential danger like hand grenade tennis or blindfolded street racing. ;-)

        • by nido ( 102070 )

          well, it's sorta like that Semmelweis guy [wikipedia.org], who implored his colleagues to wash their hands between the sick ward and the maternity ward. But the doctors couldn't see/understand how washing their hands could possibly make a difference. So the women dropped like flies, and they avoided the hospital at all costs.

          It took over 40 years for Semmelweis' insight to take hold, and countless women died needlessly. Likewise, researchers waste their time using "augmented reality" for phobias, when there are practical s

          • heck, i could give them actual cockroaches for free (plus shipping and handling)! way more lifelike that augmented reality and since the feeling of a cockroach crawling on you is much worse than just seeing one (trust me, i've woke up with them on my lips), I'm sure they would be more effective. That's assuming their strategy is to scare the poor patients to death, since dead people don't need counseling, unless it's from Bruce Willis. that seems to be what they're going for.

            • I hate their stupid little hooky feet and they smell like garbage. I hear the taste will stay in your mouth all day too if you accidentally bite on one.

              I woke up with a giant millipede on my bed once, but those are basically big armored caterpillars so I wasn't too freaked out.

              (not that there aren't certain dangerous caterpillars [wikipedia.org])

  • Sigmund freud to thread 10/05/16/2224220.

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:08AM (#32233256)

    Wouldn't it be better that as soon as the glasses detect a cockroach they 'augment reality' by becoming completely opaque?

    • Wouldn't you be more likely to step on the whole bloody mess then? A body swarming with roaches *brrr*. No thank you. I'd rather be able to see so I could run the fark away, albeit in a dignified, lordly manner.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The idea behind this sort of therapy is to confront your fears in a controlled setting. The simulation induces more and more anxiety until you tell the psychiatrist that you are anxious. It is then toned down until you are relaxed again. These therapies are typically used in conjunction with relaxation techniques in an attempt to empower the patient to relax irrational fears away.
      • Anyone whose first reaction to the above post was "that's insightful", you have some reading to do. If you read it and your first thought was "Whoosh", you can keep your geek card. (Insightful can be your second thought, of course).

        Anyone in the first group, go read Hitchhiker's Guide please.
    • Why not just ask Zaphod if you can borrow his glasses?

  • by SlappyBastard ( 961143 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:12AM (#32233278) Homepage
    Do we really need electricity to replace what chemistry already does so well?
    • Easier to pull the plug on electricity...

      Plus, with the googles, --oh-fuck-man-they-are-everywhere and --horrible-lumps-crawling-under-my-skin-cannot-scratch-deep-enough have to be explicitly specified when the program is invoked(unless they are specified in ~/.roaches, which is read at startup. Incidentally, if /etc/skel contains a .roaches file, you should really consider moving to a slightly less seedy hosting provider...).
      • You're saying, the goggles do something?
        • Depends on your insurance coverage. If you've got the good stuff, you get the VR Goggles, that indeed do something.

          Otherwise, they slap a pair of CVS reading glasses taped to a USB cable on you and have a research assistant dump a box of cockroaches on the desk.

          If you have nothing at all, they just send you home, on the theory that you should be able to do plenty of exposure therapy there.
    • by mmaniaci ( 1200061 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @01:40AM (#32233790)
      LSD won't give you that kind of hallucination. Tree bark will move up and down a tree, grass will swirl into a sort of whirlpool, and lights will become spectral and dance like a thousand tiny ballerinas, but you won't manifest insects on your desk. Psychedelics tend to meddle with your senses to where you hear parts of what you see, and see part of what you hear. The baseline to "All Tomorrow's Parties" becomes everyone's visible heartbeat. The sunset produces a low, comforting drone that pulses with shadows cast by breezy trees. Sex becomes... well, sex on LSD is how I believe we humans came up with God.

      I know your post was a joke, but misinformation about LSD is bad, m'kay. Its an absolutely beautiful drug, and if used responsibly and in good company, it can lead to some truly amazing insights and lasting happiness. I don't mean that if you take LSD you'll become Jimi Hendrix, but in the 8 hours of tripping, you will find out more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Oh, and its literally impossible to overdose, but don't take my word for it. If you must do drugs, do them responsibly!!!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide#Dangers [wikipedia.org]
      Don't take any drug without visiting this site: http://www.erowid.org/ [erowid.org]
      • by dogmatixpsych ( 786818 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @08:17AM (#32235620) Journal
        You might not be able to overdose (although I'm sure someone can) but LSD does result in "bad trips" for a significant proportion of people. The psychological trauma can last for years. You cannot prevent a bad trip, they can hit people using LSD at random. LSD is not benign, no drugs are (note: "if used responsibly and in good company" - the key is that drugs are almost never used responsibly, at least illicit drugs are usually not; that's not just because they are illegal either, although that does factor in to their abuse. Alcohol is not illegal but it is abused widely; same with tobacco). Responsible use is better than irresponsible use but no use is better than any use (IMO).
        • You cannot prevent a bad trip, they can hit people using LSD at random.

          I disagree with this. The concept of a "babysitter" to first-time trippers is someone (usually sober) who can detect when things are going wrong and, in response, divert the tripper's attention to something which can hold his/her focus (such as animation)....

        • The way it was explained to me was that LSD basically amplifies what you're already experiencing. So if you're having a good time, LSD helps you have an awesome time, but if you're having a bad time LSD will turn it into a nightmare.

          Of course this is all second-hand anecdotes, so YMMV.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 )
        Too bad you didn't read your own link:

        There are some cases of LSD inducing a psychosis in people who appeared to be healthy prior to taking LSD. In most cases, the psychosis-like reaction is of short duration, but in other cases it may be chronic.


        HPPD differs from flashbacks in that it is persistent and apparently entirely visual (although mood and anxiety disorders are sometimes diagnosed in the same individuals). A recent review suggests that HPPD (as defined in the DSM-IV) is rare and affects only a distinctly vulnerable subpopulation of users. However, it is possible that the prevalence of HPPD is underestimated because most of the diagnoses are applied to people who are willing to admit to their health care practitioner that they have previously used psychotropics, and presumably many people are reluctant to admit this.

        And those side-effects are not dose-dependents and cannot be prevented by being "responsible".
        LSD may not be as bad as other drugs, but it is not good.

        • Both of your quotes describe extremely rare phenomena. You have a better chance at going insane watching a Micheal Bay "film" than you do by taking acid.
  • In my recent psychology class, our 2004 textbook as well as a few VHS tapes discussed the use of augmented reality as a treatment for various phobias. One example is this article from 2005 [ieeecomputersociety.org].
  • Augmented reality has been used to treat phobia for years. I remember reading a SciAm article about the medical application of augmented reality, where a virtual pet tarantula was used to treat arachnophobia, and a virtual snow-covered mountain landscape was set up for children recovering from burns where they and their parents could "play" together in the virtual mountains.

    That article was from N years ago where N > 5. Can't remember the exact details but certainly it is not new.

    And there was touch feed

  • Augment their reality with a can of bug spray and some boric acid.


  • Or, land crayfish, as they're known colloquially. Some prefer to squeeze out the poo before you pop em in your mouth. But, true connoisseurs actually suck out the poo... some say, it's the best part.
  • by Dunx ( 23729 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:38AM (#32233476) Homepage

    Some phobias are disabling - agoraphobia, for instance, or a sufficiently developed fear of heights. Some phobias are inconvenient like fear of the number thirteen.

    But fear of cockroaches? I call that healthy!

    Unless your job requires you to go into cockroach-infested places and not freak out, I can't see any serious downside to cockroach phobia.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by T Murphy ( 1054674 )
      It may depend on the degree of the fear. It can be understandable to be frightened of a cockroach enough to back away a few feet and search for a way to dispose of it. It would be irrational to flee the room and refuse to return without coaxing. It would be unhealthy if you then start hyperventilating and turn it into a traumatic event, complete with keeping you up at nights. It would at least be useful to tame a person's fear to a milder form if their fear takes on such an extreme case. I agree it wouldn
      • by adbge ( 1693228 )
        Just to go one further: a phobia can often manifest itself as avoidance. Not just of cockroaches, per se, but one might avoid places they believe could contain a cockroach. Depending on severity, it could cripple one's ability to function normally.
    • Depends on context. Cockroach phobia can be disabling in NYC. And agoraphobia can be healthy in New Jersey.

  • How about clowns? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kolbe ( 320366 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:47AM (#32233534) Homepage

    My wife has an absolute fear and hatred for clowns, so much so that her Mother once sent her to clown school in order to try to shake the fear. Alas, I marry her and get stuck with the "fear" and cannot go anywhere or anything with our kids that might involve... clowns.

    So, I have to ask if this augmented reality system might work for other fears such as this? Perhaps make it so an image of a clown appears on the faces of all that are gazed upon?

    I have to wonder if it would cause more stress than cures though.

  • by oddTodd123 ( 1806894 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @12:50AM (#32233554)
    I got over my cockroach phobia pretty quickly after moving into my new house. They were coming into my house and I traced them back to the hole in the ground where the water meter is. My solution, not wanting to get too close, was to pour poison into hole. Ten minutes later my driveway, garage, and front yard were covered with dozens of stunned cockroaches that had crawled out of their makeshift cave looking for some other dark place to live, which included the firewood pile, every corner and edge of the building, and under my car tires. I had to round them up one by one (using a broom and dustpan!) and get rid of them. I collected them in a bucket, drowned them in more poison, and buried them. Not so afraid of cockroaches any more. But they still gross me out!
    • When I was 14, a few friends and I decided to slide a storm drain cover open. With a flashlight, most of the surface area was covered in roaches. I swear to God, it was like that scene taken strait out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

      • I swear to God, it was like that scene taken strait out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

        That is exactly how it looks. Like a cheesy but well-done movie effect.

        One time I had to open a septic tank that we knew was full of cockroaches. So someone else lifts the lid while I'm dual-wielding large, full cans of bug spray. Now I knew there would be a lot but I didn't understand just how many.

        THE HORROR

        A FUCKING CARPET OF COCKROACHES pours out of all four sides. I'm doing my best circle-strafing with the bug spray but some are still escaping. They crawl up walls, try to crawl up my leg (which they cl

    • When I was kid, about 6 or 7, I attended some sort of school function at night in a big auditorium. They were showing a movie and the projector's light attracted roaches. And I don't mean these little dinky things most people call roaches, I mean the big 2-3 inch long reddish brown ones with hooks like velcro on their legs. One of those landed on my head and got tangled up in my hair. I freaked out, as much about the roach getting in my hair as trying to get it out without squashing it and getting gallo

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I hate cockroaches. Hate them, hate them, hate them.

      Once while working a high school construction job in the Florida Keys, I stayed in the unfinished and very *open* hotel being renovated. In the middle of the night Nature started calling so I got up and started walking down the hallway. The hallway was actually completely open to the outdoors, having only wood beams and no actual wall. At the end of the hallway was a finished wall. As I got closer I noticed something strange -- it looked like the

      • And fellow construction workers being such wonderful souls, they had a good laugh when I woke them up.

        Of course the next night they decide to put a live cockroack on my face while I slept.


        Aaah, good times. Good times...

  • "I have pressed the first lever", said O'Brien. "You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue."

    I have seen some references to 1984 recently on /. comments, and this idea of utilizing an augmented reality such that one could not escape the fear of a cockroaches reminded me of the rat scene from George Orwell's 1984.

    Yes there is a difference in this, however, in the fact that people would do this by choice "to be cured". I am just commenting on how the article hit me, nothing more nothing less.

    Shoot, if this helps people, awesome. But on another note, how the hell would one augment a "fear of falli

    • "You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world." - O'Brien
  • You will see monster cockroaches crawling around that nobody else can see.

    Was this supposed to be a cure for a phobia or a recipe for schizophrenia? :P

  • I know of several cures. Spectracide makes one. The bugs go away and they don't come back...
  • Fishopolis anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iamhassi ( 659463 ) on Monday May 17, 2010 @01:50AM (#32233830) Journal
    So this is Rivia Fishopolis [clickgamer.com] but for cockroaches.

    It's for Windows Mobile cellphones with cameras, and it displays what the camera sees with fish swimming around and crosshairs to shoot the fish. [youtube.com] If you move your phone it continues to show whatever the camera sees, and the fish "move" into the path of the crosshairs.

    Shame there isn't a better video of it because the game is top-notch, I've literally spun in circles trying to shoot fish. Glad to see someone's using the idea for medical purposes.
  • 'nuff said.
  • I seem to recall some application back in the SunOS days called xroach, which when run would have roaches hide under your windows. Then when you closed/moved a window/xterm the roaches would scatter and hide under other windows.

    • yes it was a fun program, i wonder whether it still compiles with modern X11 versions. I tried to write a version vor NeXTstep in the late 80s but failed miserably...
  • All their work will be undone by ORKIN commercials and six-foot-tall roaches.
  • This is just too damn cruel, like desensitizing a child by beating it. Heck just play the latest and greatest FPS instead, then you'd desensitize humans too, double your fun, double your pleasure!

  • I suffer from a particularly strong form of cockroach phobia. I can't even see an American cockroach without freaking out. I can tolerate German cockroaches to some extent, because there used to be plenty in the tropical apartments where I spent most of my childhood, but they still make me feel anxious and very uncomfortable.

    I'm so sensible that even touching the screen where the picture of the cockroaches is displayed proved very difficult. The mere fact that I looked at the cockroaches pictured in the scr

  • Instead of eradicating the phobia I'd rather just eradicate the little bastards that cause the phobia.
  • phobia? really? (Score:2, Informative)

    by strack ( 1051390 )
    the hell its a phobia. there horrid skittering insects, usually dirty, maybe poisionous, and getting as far away from them as possible or squashing them is a entirely sane way to deal with them. theres no time to distinguish between cockroaches and other more dangerous types before stomping your foot down.
  • It was virtually entertaining.

  • I don't think this will work at.

    For starters, they need really tiny VR glasses and I don't think the technology is there yet.

    Then they don't really say which fobia they're going to treat at all. Sounds a bit fishy to.

    Last but not least, do they really expect that they will be able to find cockroaches that can afford the treatment.

    Honestly, I think the whole thing of treating cockroaches for fobia is some kind of scam.

  • The same empathy that makes us enjoy stories, fear horror movies and cringe when think about pulling fingernails with pliers works with VR. Shocking ;)

  • I'm not sure I entirely see the point. I'd rather not be fond of cockroaches.

  • So, how do they simulate the sensation of hundreds of cockroaches crawling all over your body?
    It sounds like only visuals of cockroaches are being simulated and it's not a big deal. However, having the sensation of a cockroach crawling over your face at 2 A.M. will wake you up faster than espresso.

  • I have a colony of Blaptica Dubia [wikipedia.org] Roaches in my house right now. They weren't cheap either but then again I purchased them from a reputable dealer The Roach Guy [theroachguy.com].

    Now, I've got about 1200 of these guys ranging from 1/4 inch to full sized adults which are roughly 2 inches in length. I actually have them living in my living room in a 36 gallon rubbermaid bin. They even have special needs such as 95F temperatures for optimal breeding. To accomplish this I bought a human heating pad and a simple thermostat.


  • I am pretty sure I would be afraid of roaches crawling all over me. What I am unsure about is why that is a problem and why I would want to change that?

  • For all you phobia sufferers.... Phobias are very easy to fix. With no pain and suffering. All it takes is a few minutes actually. I'm a hypnotist, and I work with phobias all the time. They are my easiest clients. Do yourself a favor and find a hypnotist or a NLP person who uses 'the fast phobia cure' (also known as 'the rewind technique' or 'VKd'). You can do it over the phone, on skype, using text chat... Quite a few clients have told me afterwards, 'if only I had know years ago that it was this eas
  • I heard that they had setbacks due to storage problems for a while.... until they switched to RAID.


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