Augmented Reality used to Fight Fears

Augmented reality is a technology that utilizes software and cameras to superimpose images on normal pictures and video.  Essentially, by including an object or element into the view of a camera that the software understands, the viewer will see something entirely different on the video screen in place of that object.  For instance, if I was taking a video of my hand holding a green cube, but the software knew to convert that image of a green cube into the image of a baseball instead, that’s what I would see in my hand when I looked at the video screen.

While augmented reality can be used as a hokey entertainment tool, it is also being used as a therapeutic way to alleviate people’s fears of things like insects.  By using augmented reality, therapists can put a helmet on the head of a person that contains a screen in the front that displays a live video of a table in front of them.  If the person is afraid of spiders, the therapist will engage a program that makes it look like there are spiders all over the table, even crawling across their hands.

Now, while this might seem like a form of digital torture, studies show that the people who are involved in these exercises eventually experience a reduction in their fear of bugs.  While they may initially be uncomfortable, knowing that the bugs are no where near them while seemingly being able to interact with them allows them to have a mental safety net of sorts.

Personally, I’m curious how I would react if someone digitally superimposed a giant tarantula making its way up my arm.  I’m sure that it would be an odd sensation to see something that looks so real, yet have no touch sensation whatsoever.  I imagine it’s very similar to how my cat feels when I put the laser pointer on his paws.  He can see it’s there, but I can tell that he’s got no idea why he can’t feel the dot moving on him.

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