How to Cure a Spider Phobia in 2 Minutes
Hang out with a tarantula, then get a dose of propranolol: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 11, 2015 7:50 AM CST
A second grader holds a tarantula in Tennessee, Friday, March 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Kyle Kurlick)

(Newser) – Arachnophobes, rejoice! A new study suggests a cure to your fear of spiders is just two minutes away. The only problem is that it involves being near a tarantula. Reporting in Biological Psychiatry, University of Amsterdam scientists say they built an experiment out of the idea of reconsolidation—that memories can be strengthened or weakened when activated, reports Treehugger. Previous research showed a fearful memory could be forgotten if a drug was administered when that memory was activated, per a release. So researchers exposed 45 arachnophobes to a tarantula for two minutes, then gave each a dose of beta blocker propranolol, used to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions, or a placebo. Those given propranolol saw drastically reduced "avoidance behavior" and increased "approach behavior" over the next year. In other words, they were less likely to dodge spiders and more likely to go near one.

"Here we show for the first time that an amnesic drug given in conjunction with memory reactivation transformed avoidance behavior to approach behavior in people with a real-life spider fear," says study author Merel Kindt. Though more research is needed, the scientist suggests the same technique could be used on patients suffering from anxiety disorders and PTSD. These individuals "receive multiple sessions of cognitive behavioral treatment or daily drug intake with a gradual (and often temporary) decline of symptoms," Kindt says. "The proposed revolutionary intervention involves one single, brief intervention that leads to a sudden, substantial and lasting loss of fear." Not interested in hanging around a tarantula? Atlas Obscura reports the London Zoo is helping people overcome their fear of spiders with group hypnosis. An official says 97% choose to hold a spider after the meeting. (Just not one as big as a puppy.)