If, like Ron Weasley, you've got a crippling fear of spiders, then having a giant tarantula crawl across your paws definitely isn't your definition of fun. In fact, the mere thought of it is enough to cause you to burst into tears. However, according to a bunch of scientists, allowing an eight-legged creature to scurry in your presence could be all it takes to free you from the phobia.
Picture this: you've taken the first step, admitted you have a problem and agreed to take part in a study that aims to discover a cure. Then you see it:
The tarantula sits in an open cage in the center of the room, dark and hairy and as big as a man’s fist. Its eight thick legs, sharp fangs and large glassy eyes are enough to give anyone the creeps, let alone someone who has feared spiders all her life, such as the woman standing at the far side of the room, looking distraught.
The woman mentioned in the excerpt above has only one task: she must touch the spider. For anyone that shares her fear, or to be honest, even if you don't, it's not hard to sympathize with the utter fucking terror faced when told you must approach a cage with a massive spider in it, and then fondle its hairy back. No thanks!
However, she completes the task. She lowers her hand into the cage, strokes the tarantula, and the reported look on her face afterwards is one of pure triumph. She did it! And then, to the psychologist's disbelief she said:
“Can I do it again?”
How does it work?
According to Merel Kindt and Marieke Soeter, the co-authors of the study which was released this Tuesday, all it takes is two minutes and the help of a little beta blocking drug called propranolol.
Using a method called 'memory reconsolidation,' the idea is basically thus: when a memory is recalled, propranolol is administered which essentially blocks the conditioned reaction you would normally have in relation to the stimuli. So, taking this study for example, the user wouldn't forget what a spider is, but they would forget the fear usually associated with it.
This is what happened with Kindt’s propranolol patients. They erased their spider fear memories and then rewrote them with one of triumph — touching the tarantula a week after their treatment. When they returned to her lab three months and a year later, the effects stuck. Most of the treatment group reported being even less fearful three months after the experiment than they were on the day of their spider-touching success.
Pretty cool, right?
Source: Washington Post