A newly found cure against fear of spiders works in just 2 minutes, its inventors have recently announced. The study, whose findings have been presented in the Biological Psychiatry Journal, was conducted by a team of experts led by Merel Kind, psychologist at the University of Amsterdam’s Brain and Cognition Center.
A group of 45 volunteers suffering from extreme arachnophobia (fear of spiders) were included in the experiment. For an extremely brief period of time of just 2 minutes, which must’ve seemed like an eternity however, the participants were kept in the presence of a tarantula.
Afterwards, in a randomized controlled trial, some of the individuals were administered a placebo, while others were required to take propranolol. This medicine is a commonly prescribed beta blocker, which can be effectively used so as to reduce high blood pressure, arrhythmia and essential tremors.
It’s also considered beneficial in preventing heart attacks and migraines, and some studies have suggested it might also assist in combating post-traumatic stress disorder, stage fright and certain phobias.
Researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of propranolol against a particular type of phobia: the one triggered by spiders.
Their hypothesis was that arachnophobia could be successfully treated using this type of medical treatment. The reason why they had this certainty is linked to the concept of “reconsolidation”, which was introduced by Dr. Joseph LeDoux back in 2000.
According to the neuroscientist, whenever we access memories we actually reconstruct them, by creating new synaptic connections.
Therefore, if this process is perturbed by using certain medication, it is possible not just to distort memories, by intensifying or subduing them, but even to delete them altogether.
Indeed, participants who took just one dose of propranolol as part of the arachnophobia study were proven to have a completely different attitude towards spiders after the study ended.
More precisely, they were much more likely to approach the 8-legged creatures than to persistently avoid them, and no longer showed any signs of irrational fear towards these arthropods.
As study authors explain, this is because propranolol reduced the participants’ state of tension and anxiety following the spider encounter, causing them to no longer associate the presence of such creepy crawlies with panic and distress.
Basically, a new memory was shaped, and the beta blocker had almost an amnesic effect, destroying former recollections of spiders, marked by terror and anguish.
Even more remarkably, according to researchers, arachnophobia remained absent among study participants who were given propranolol even a year after the study had ended, which suggests that the effects of such therapy can actually be quite long-lasting.
Previously, people who suffered from various types of debilitating phobias had to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy for extended lengths of time. Some even had to take medicine on a daily basis so as to keep their condition in check, achieving just temporary relief from their symptoms, without finding an actual cure.
Now it seems that using memory manipulation irrational fears can be combated in as little as 120 seconds, thanks to a non-invasive and extremely quick intervention whose effects are extremely long-lasting and reliable.
In fact, this discovery could also be instrumental in putting an end to other related conditions, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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