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Photo of Al Carlin AL CARLIN

Al Carlin is a clinical Psychologist in Seattle, Washington. At the University of Washington's Human Interface Technology Lab, he and Hunter Hoffman are using virtual therapy to cure clinical-level phobias. Fear is in the mind of the phobic. As you see on this episode of Frontiers, VR can be used to help change the way phobics think so they can lead normal lives again. Severe arachnophobics are immersed into virtual Spider Worlds designed to systematically desensitize them to their fear. To maximize their sense of presence, patients physically touch a mixed reality spider: part virtual, part hairy toy. After twelve hours of VR exposure therapy, patients show a marked reduction in fear which transfers to the real world (our most severe phobic has found a new hobby: camping in the woods for the first time in seventeen years).

See Al Carlin's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.