Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Scientists discover superhero movies are a cure for phobias of spiders and ants

Mark Waghorn, May 6, 2019 7:00PM New York Post

Print Article

Just seven seconds of a superhero movie could help you with phobias such as fear or spiders or ants. media_cameraJust seven seconds of a superhero movie could help you with phobias such as fear or spiders or ants.

health

Reading level: orange

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.

Spider-Man in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Picture: supplied media_cameraSpider-Man in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Picture: supplied

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.

Seeing actual spiders and ants in a film wasn’t as successful as seeing the superhero versions. Picture: Sara Nixon media_cameraSeeing actual spiders and ants in a film wasn’t as successful as seeing the superhero versions. Picture: Sara Nixon

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.

A scene from the movie Ant-man and the Wasp. Picture: supplied media_cameraA scene from the movie Ant-man and the Wasp. Picture: supplied

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.

Watching Spider-Man (seen here in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) could be more effective in helping you get over your fears than actually seeing a spider. Picture: supplied media_cameraWatching Spider-Man (seen here in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) could be more effective in helping you get over your fears than actually seeing a spider. Picture: supplied

PHOBIAS
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.

GLOSSARY

  • 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

EXTRA READING

Weird, wacky, wonderful nature photos

Insects crawling onto Australian menus

Scientists discover cure for fear

VR helps cure fear of flying

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is arachnophobia?
  2. How many seconds did they show the films for?
  3. Where is Ariel University?
  4. Why may superhero films be more successful at treating phobias than current treatment?
  5. Why is it useful to have a normal fear or spiders?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
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

Shyness/anxiety (Violet)

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social

2. Extension
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

VCOP ACTIVITY
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.

Extra Reading in health