Watching Spider-Man clips can reduce spider phobia symptoms by up to twenty percent

An image of a person cosplaying as Spider-Man to illsutrate the concept of the impact of Marvel movies on ant and spider phobia symptoms
© iStock/ColobusYeti

Researchers have found that exposure to Spider-Man and Antman movie excerpts can reduce ant and spider phobia symptoms by up to twenty percent.

Prof. Menachem Ben-Ezra from the School of Social Work at Ariel University and Dr. Yaakov Hoffman, of the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, analysed the exposure of 424 subjects to Spider-Man and Antman movie excerpts and its impact on their spider and ant phobic symptoms. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Exposure therapy for phobias

According to Bar-Ilan University, exposure therapy for specific phobias can counteract an irrational fear through neutral exposure to the phobic stimulus.

The effect of positive exposure in fantasy, or in Marvel movies, has not been used in cognitive behavioural therapies.

How Spider-Man affects spider phobia symptoms

According to the study, watching just a seven second clip from Spider-Man 2 reduced the participants’ spider phobia symptoms by twenty percent (with the symptoms measured before and after viewing).

Similarly, this efficacy was obtained for ant phobia when viewing a seven second excerpt from Antman.

However, when participants watched a seven second opening scene from Marvel films which is common to all Marvel movies, or a natural scene of seven seconds long there were no significant associated insect phobia symptom reductions. This suggests to the researchers that the reduction in symptoms is driven by the specific exposure to ants and spiders in the films rather than the calming or fun effects of viewing a Marvel superhero film.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that a fun in vitro exposure may be very useful. Dr. Hoffman notes that usually in vitro exposure is usually less potent in comparison to in vivo exposure, yet in vivo exposure can be difficult for some patients and therefore is often not used.

In the next stage of their research the authors will assess whether Marvel film screenings have any other benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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