Magnetic stimulation of the brain helped to overcome the fear of heights

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Advances in technology over the past decades have led to an increase in the number of studies related to transcranial magnetic stimulation ( TMS ) and its therapeutic effects. So, and a team of scientists from the University Hospital of Würzburg recently published a scientific paper demonstrating how TMS combined with experience in virtual reality can help people reduce anxiety disorders and even get rid of fears.

German scientists have found that a combination of the two technologies can be an effective treatment method that can cope with fears (for example, fear of height), anxiety and various phobias. Researchers believe that the use of TMS, where magnetic impulses are directed to certain areas of the brain in order to stimulate their activity or suppression, can help people forget about their tormenting fears.

“We knew from earlier studies that specific areas in the frontal lobe of the human brain are important in getting rid of fears,” says Professor Martin Herrmann .

By the way, transcranial magnetic stimulation devices have already been approved for the treatment of migraine  and some serious depressive disorders .

The team found that the combination of TMS with virtual reality can improve the patient’s response along with the traditional method of treatment – cognitive behavioral therapy. The goal is to help overcome fears, ranging from air travel and fear of using elevators, ending with arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Such fears significantly worsen the quality of life and at times hamper the implementation of daily activities.

In the study, scientists divided a group of volunteers from 39 participants into two subgroups. All participants noted that they are afraid of heights. The first group received stimulation of their frontal lobe for 20 minutes, the rest were pseudo-stimulated. Then people “rose on dizzy heights” with the help of virtual reality. In this stimulation they stood on an elevated platform high above the ground.

Many skeptics may question the use of virtual reality. However, the authors of the study argue that it does not matter that people are not surrounded by a real environment. “People feel real fear in virtual reality, even though they are aware that they are not in a very dangerous situation,” Herman said.

After two sessions, according to experts, volunteers from the group, treated with the help of TMS to virtual reality, showed less anxiety than people from the second group

As a result of this exercise, it was found that “all participants received significant benefits from therapy through virtual reality, and the positive effects of such treatment were visible even after three months,” the authors of the work write.

In their opinion, stimulation of the frontal lobe accelerates the response to therapy. Currently, specialists are studying whether the same treatment can be effective in arachnophobia.

The results of the study are presented in the scientific publication Brain Stimulation.

By the way, earlier the project “Vesti.Nauka” talked about the fact that VR-technologies facilitated oncology sessions of chemotherapy . In addition, it was found that virtual reality helps to ease the fear of death .