Brain Stimulation And Virtual Reality Therapy Alleviate Anxiety In Study

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When specific areas of the brain are stimulated magnetically, unlearning fears becomes easier, according to researchers at the Wurzburg University Hospital.

Though gradually exposing people to what they fear, called exposure therapy, is a proven way to reduce symptoms of anxiety, not all individuals benefit equally. So, Professor Martin J. Herrmann and his colleagues at Wurzburg have been experimenting with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to improve their patients' therapy response.

“We knew from previous studies that a specific region in the frontal lobe of the human brain is important for unlearning anxiety,” Herrmann said, and initial laboratory trials showed that stimulating this region helped people unlearn anxiety responses.

To investigate further, the researchers recruited 39 people with an intense fear of heights, and decided to use virtual reality to trigger their anxiety. “The people feel actual fear also in a virtual reality - although they know that they are not really in a dangerous situation,” says Herrmann.

On two occasions, some participant’s frontal lobes were stimulated using TMS before addressing their fear in therapy, using virtual reality to create the sensation of height. The remaining participants received pseudo brain stimulations followed by virtual reality assisted therapy sessions.

“The findings demonstrate that all participants benefit considerably from the therapy in virtual reality and the positive effects of the intervention are still clearly visible even after three months,” said Herrmann. Further, those who underwent the actual TMS frontal lobe stimulation enjoyed an accelerated therapy response.

The researchers are now planning to use brain stimulation followed by virtual reality therapy with other types of anxiety, such as the extreme fear of spiders.

Source: Science Daily

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