Virtual reality exposure therapy and standard (in vivo) exposure therapy in the treatment of fear of flying

Behav Ther. 2006 Mar;37(1):80-90. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2005.04.004. Epub 2006 Feb 24.


This controlled clinical trial tested virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy for the fear of flying (FOF), a relatively new and innovative way to do exposure therapy, and compared it to standard (in vivo) exposure therapy (SE) and a wait list (WL) control with a 6- and 12-month follow-up. Eighty-three participants with FOF were randomly assigned to VRE, SE, or WL. Seventy-five participants, 25 per group, completed the study. Twenty-three WL participants completed randomly assigned treatment following the waiting period. Treatment consisted of 4 sessions of anxiety management training followed either by exposure to a virtual airplane (VRE) or an actual airplane at the airport (SE) conducted over 6 weeks. Results indicate that VRE was superior to WL on all measures, including willingness to fly on the posttreatment flight (76% for VRE and SE; 20% for WL). VRE and SE were essentially equivalent on standardized questionnaires, willingness to fly, anxiety ratings during the flight, self-ratings of improvement, and patient satisfaction with treatment. Follow-up assessments at 6 and 12 months indicated that treatment gains were maintained, with more than 70% of respondents from both groups reporting continued flying at follow-up. Based on these findings, the use of VRE in the treatment of FOF was supported in this controlled study, suggesting that experiences in the virtual world can change experiences in the real world.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aviation*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotherapy / instrumentation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome
  • User-Computer Interface*