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Virtual Fear

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TEACHING GUIDES


21ST CENTURY MEDICINE: Virtual Fear


People who suffer from a deep fear of heights or other phobias face many anxieties and challenges in daily life. In this story, Chris Clock tells us about some of the ways a phobia ruled his life. A research team led by Larry Hodges at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Barbara Rothbaum at Emory University is working on a new treatment. The experimental program enables people to confront their fears in a virtual world, and is helping people like Chris overcome their worst nightmares.

Curriculum Links
Activity 1: Phobias: Find Out More
Activity 2: Center of Gravity




CURRICULUM LINKS

BIOLOGY

nervous system
CHEMISTRY

hormones
GENERAL SCIENCE

"fight or flight" response
senses
HEALTH

emotions
fear
PSYCHOLOGY

anxiety
phobias
TECNHOLOGY

projecting images
virtual reality




RELATED ACTIVITIES

ACTIVITY 1: PHOBIAS: FIND OUT MORE

Phobias: Find Out More

An irrational fear of an object, situation or activity is called a phobia. People who suffer from phobias may live constricted lives, as they endeavor to avoid the cause of their extreme anxiety. As we see on FRONTIERS, prior to his treatment, a young man's fear of heights (acrophobia) greatly affected his everyday behavior.

  1. Find out more about phobias. What are the physical and emotional symptoms? When does a simple fear or anxiety become a phobic reaction? Speculate on possible causes.

  2. Find out more about other phobias not covered in this story, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or public places), hydrophobia (fear of water), zoophobia (fear of small animals). Brainstorm a virtual reality treatment for each phobia.

  3. Talk to a construction worker or a person in another job who has to work high above the ground. Does it bother them? How do they overcome their fears?



ACTIVITY 2: CENTER OF GRAVITY

Associated with a fear of heights may be a sense of losing one's balance and the fear of falling. People fall when they lose their sense of balance. A person's center of gravity is a point where his/her body mass seems to be centered. To stay balanced and not fall over, a person's center of gravity must remain over the base of support, the feet. People who suddenly become afraid at a great height often relate how they had to crawl back to safety; what they are actually doing is lowering their center of gravity.

Procedure:

Try each of the following activities, first with no support, then standing against a wall. Think about where your center of gravity is located.

  1. Stand on your right foot while lifting your left leg. Put the side of your right foot and right hip against a wall and try again to lift your left leg. (The wall prevents your center of gravity from moving over your right foot, so it can't be done.)
  2. Sit in a chair with your back straight and arms at your sides. Try to stand up without using your hands or leaning forward. (Impossible since your center of gravity is over the chair and won't move unless you lean forward.)
  3. Stand on your toes. Put the tips of both feet against a wall and try to stand on your toes again. (The wall keeps your center of gravity from moving over your toes.)





 

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