Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
June 18, 1998
FEAR OF FLYING? Virtual Reality Being Evaluated as a Treatment Option for This Common Fear

If you are over 18, fearful of flying and are not currently in treatment for fear of flying, please contact Virtually Better Inc. at 404/ 873-4404. Please include your name, your phone number(s) and address, times and dates you can be reached as well as whether it is acceptable for study coordinators to leave information on your answering

Researchers at Virtually Better Inc. and Emory University are beginning a new study aimed at helping individuals with a fear of flying.

Fear of flying is a serious problem which often adversely affects sufferers' personal and occupational lives, according to Barbara O. Rothbaum, Ph.D., principal investigator. Fear of flying is also widespread; an estimated 10-25 percent of the population suffers from this fear.

The Emory study will examine the effectiveness of a new treatment, Virtual Reality Exposure (VRE) therapy, compared to standard exposure treatment.

The most effective treatment for fears or phobias is to expose the sufferer to the feared object in a therapeutic manner, says Dr. Rothbaum, who is associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine. Exposure most often occurs when patients imagine the feared situation (imaginal exposure) and/or put themselves in the actual situation (in vivo exposure) until the fear subsides. The obvious drawbacks of these two methods are lack of realism with imaginal exposure and higher cost, greater impracticality and reluctance with in vivo exposure.

"Virtual reality (VR) technology offers the potential to make exposure more realistic than imaginal exposure and more practical than in vivo exposure," Dr. Rothbaum says.

VR therapy uses cutting-edge computer technology to create a virtual environment, in this case the passenger cabin of a commercial airplane. This virtual environment includes the view out the airplane window and simulates the experience of being inside an airplane during taxi, takeoff, flight and landing during clear weather and turbulence.

Participants in the study will wear a VR head-mounted display, which projects images onto two screens in front of the user's eyes. As the user's head moves, a computer processes this information and almost instantaneously projects a "virtual world" that corresponds to head movements. Participants' sense of being in a real airplane in also enhanced by hearing the sounds which accompany the various aspects of air travel.

Participants in the study will receive six-weeks of treatment for fear of flying, either by standard exposure treatment or VR therapy. The treatment will be given free-of-charge. Participants will be randomly assigned to the two treatments or to a six-week wait list period after which they will receive therapy. Following treatment, participants will be asked to pay for and take a special reduced-fare flight on Delta Airlines accompanied by their therapist.

Dr. Rothbaum and and co- investigator Dr. Hodges receive research funding and are entitled to sales royalty from Virtually Better, Inc, which is developing products related to the research described in this release. The investigators serve as consultants to and own equity in Virtually Better, Inc. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Emory University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

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