Repeated exposure of flight phobics to flights in virtual reality

Behav Res Ther. 2001 Sep;39(9):1033-50. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(00)00076-0.


The present study examined the effects of repeated exposure of flight phobics to flights in virtual reality (VR). Flight phobics were randomly assigned either to complete one VR test flight followed by four VR exposure flights (VR group; N=15) in one lengthy session or to complete one VR test flight followed by a lengthy relaxation training session (relaxation group; N=15). All participants completed a second VR test flight at the end of the session. Fear reports and physiological fear reactions (heart rate, skin conductance level) during VR exposures were registered, and fear of flying was assessed psychometrically from 3 weeks before to 3 months after exposure. Exposure to VR flights elicited subjective and physiological fear responses in flight phobics, and these responses attenuated within and across VR flights. Fear reduction associated with repeated VR exposure was greater than fear reduction caused by relaxation training. Fear of flying improved in both treatment groups, but several outcome measures indicated greater effects in the VR treated group than in the relaxation group. These findings indicate that exposure in virtual reality may offer a new and promising approach for the treatment of fear of flying.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aviation*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Desensitization, Psychologic / methods
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • Random Allocation
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • User-Computer Interface*