Movie superheroes Spider-Man and Ant-man can help people conquer* their fear of creepy crawlies.
Seeing the superheroes on the screen for just seven seconds can help reduce symptoms of insect phobia* and arachnophobia*, according to new research.
The finding may lead to the films being used to treat those who suffer from the extreme and irrational* sense of danger.
Showing clips of Spider-Man was more effective at curing arachnophobia than film of real spiders, reducing people’s fear of spiders by 20 per cent.
The idea of treating phobias by exposing sufferers to the same thing that triggers the fear — called exposure therapy — has been studied before but never using fictional characters.
In the study, 424 people with relevant* phobias were split into two groups, with one group shown a video with scenes from the Spider-Man and Ant-Man movies.
The other group — called the control group* — only saw the Marvel opening credits along with film of actual ants and spiders.
Professor Menachem Ben-Ezra, of Ariel University in Israel, said the results could lead to treatment to help people get over their phobias in a way that didn’t make them feel frightened or embarrassed.
“Reduction in phobic symptoms was significant in the Spider-Man and Ant-Man group in comparison to the control group,” he said.
“Seven-second exposure to insect-specific stimuli* within a positive context* reduces the level of phobic symptoms.
People with ant phobia (myrmecophobia), also benefited from watching seven seconds of Ant-Man.
The researchers explained that in exposure therapy people with phobias are gradually exposed to the thing they fear until they eventually stop fearing it.
They believe this is the first time treatment using fictional characters has been tried.
Prof Ben-Ezra said the results suggest a fun film may be a very powerful tool against phobias as people will be more willing to complete the treatment and can do it at home, just by watching a film.
The researchers are planning to broaden their research to use these and other superhero films to treat problems such as nightmares and depression linked to upsetting things people have experienced in the past.
It’s believed insect and spider phobias evolved when our early ancestors lived in nature alongside deadly insects. Those who stayed away from deadly creatures were more likely to stay healthy and alive.
This is an example of natural selection, which is how plant and animal species evolve over thousands of years to survive in their environment.
Phobias, however, are not helpful as they are an extreme and irrational fear, which means the sufferer is very frightened when there is no actual danger.
- conquer: beat
- phobia: extreme or irrational fear
- arachnophobia: phobia of spiders
- irrational: no sense to it
- control group: a group in the experiment that didn’t watch the superhero movie
- stimuli: the thing that you are exposed to, such as the film in this experiment
- context: setting
- What is arachnophobia?
- How many seconds did they show the films for?
- Where is Ariel University?
- Why may superhero films be more successful at treating phobias than current treatment?
- Why is it useful to have a normal fear or spiders?
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1. Superheroes to the Rescue!
It states in the article that researchers may like to try using a fun film such as a superhero film to conquer other fears and phobias.
Can you think of some fun movies or superhero films and suggest what fears and phobias they might be able to help with. Work with a partner to help you brainstorm some ideas.
Record your ideas in a table, with MOVIE/SUPERHERO in one column and
RELATED TO WHICH FEAR OR PHOBIA in the other column.
Example: The Incredibles
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social
Why do you think this type of exposure therapy for treating phobias is a successful way of treating people? Why do you think using superheroes is helping as well?
What phobia do you know the most about? Share your knowledge with the person seated closest to you.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.
Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you have phobias? Do you think this treatment could work?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.