Scared of arachnids? Go watch Spider-Man, Israeli study says
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Scared of arachnids? Go watch Spider-Man, Israeli study says

Researchers from Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities use short clips from superhero movies as positive stimulus in exposure therapy

Two young men wearing Spider-Man costumes at the Icon Festival in Tel Aviv, October 19, 2016. (Dan Ofer/JTA)
Two young men wearing Spider-Man costumes at the Icon Festival in Tel Aviv, October 19, 2016. (Dan Ofer/JTA)

A study by Israeli researchers suggests that short exposure to the Marvel superhero movies featuring Spider-Man and Ant-Man can reduce arachnophobia symptoms by up to 20 percent.

Researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Ariel University sought to test the theory that exposure therapy to phobic stimuli can counteract irrational fears. Until now, the effects of positive exposures have not been tested in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Prof. Menachem Ben-Ezra and Dr. Yaakov Hoffman exposed some 400 subjects to seven-second excerpts from Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ant-Man movies to see what effect it had on those with spider and ant phobias.

The researchers found that viewing a short clip from the movies that contained images of ants and spiders decreased subjects’s respective phobias by 20%.

The researchers found that watching seven seconds from the film’s opening credits or a scene from the movie without spiders or ants did not have the same affect.

According to Ben-Ezra and Hoffman, this suggests that the observed decrease in phobia symptoms was not due to an overall calming or pleasing effect the movies had on viewers, rather than the specific exposure to their phobia.

Paul Rudd as Ant-Man in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ (Courtesy Marvel Studios)

“Seven-second exposure to insect-specific stimuli within a positive context, reduces the level of phobic symptoms,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry last week.

“Incorporating exposure to short scenes from Marvel Cinematic Universe within a therapeutic protocol for such phobias may be robustly efficacious and enhance cooperation and motivation by rendering the therapy as less stigmatic.”

Ben-Ezra said that while superhero movies are known to have an overall positive psychological effect, their results could open a new direction in cognitive therapy.

Hoffman suggested that using images from films or comic books could be more effective than using real or virtual reality images in treating a phobia.

“Thus, exposure to Marvel’s ‘good ole Spidey’ may be an optimal solution,” Hoffman said in a statement.

The researchers said they would continue their research in this area, and would next examine the effects of Marvel movies on those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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