A new study that was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry has now discovered that exposure to heroic movies like Spider-Man and Ant-Man are actually proven to be associated with decreased symptoms for both spider and ant-related phobias, respectively.
Roughly 9% of Americans have a specific phobia, according to the American Psychiatric Association, and arachnophobia (aka. the fear of spiders) consistently ranks among the most common fears. A specific phobia is an excessive, persistent fear of a certain object or situation that is generally not harmful, and exposure therapy is a common method to treat these phobias. Patients are gradually exposed to their source of anxiety to help them eventually overcome their fear, and as the new study notes, “the effect of positive exposure, albeit fantasy has not been attempted” in these therapies.
The study consisted of a total of 424 enthusiastic participants which were then split into four groups that would watch different clips throughout the duration of the study. Two intervention groups (one using a Spider-Man 2 clips, the other using an Ant-Man clip) and two control groups (a non-bug related Marvel movie scene and a non-Marvel “natural” scene) were measured using an online survey before and after the clip screenings took place. The online survey looked at each person’s phobia symptoms, how familiar they were with Marvel movies and comics, and demographic variables.
The study found that in both the Spider-Man and Ant-Man groups, there was a significant dip in phobic symptoms when compared to the control groups. Seven seconds of exposure to a spider scene from Spider-Man 2 was linked to a 20% decrease in the participants’ spider phobia symptoms score, relative to their pre-viewing score. The group who watched a seven-second excerpt from Ant-Man experienced similar results with ant phobia (though there’s no word yet on whether the movie’s sequel helped with fear of wasps). For the groups that viewed clips of a non-bug related Marvel opening scene or a natural scene, there weren’t any significant decreases in insect phobia symptoms post-viewing.
“Seven-second exposure to insect-specific stimuli within a positive context reduces the level of phobic symptoms. “Incorporating exposure to short scenes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe within a therapeutic protocol for such phobias may be robustly efficacious and enhance cooperation and motivation by rendering the therapy as less stigmatic.”
“It opens the door to superhero movies being used to boost mental health provide by using escapism and good moral tales to confront one’s fears,” said the team.
They continued to explain “Exposure therapy for specific phobias, for example, ants and spiders, utilises neutral exposure to a phobic stimulus to counteract an irrational fear. “As one is increasingly exposed to the phobic stimuli one ceases to fear it.” They then stated that “To date, the effect of positive exposure, albeit fantasy, for example in the form of Marvel movies, has not been attempted in cognitive behavioural therapies.”
“Screening a seven-second excerpt of a spider scene from ‘Spiderman 2′ reduced participants’ post-viewing spider phobia (arachnophobia) symptoms score relative to their pre-viewing score by 20 percent. “This impressive cost-benefit efficacy was similarly obtained for ant phobia when viewing a seven-second excerpt from ‘Ant-Man.’”
“However, when participants were queried either about general insect phobia both pre- and post-viewing a seven-second Marvel opening scene — common to all Marvel movies — or a seven-second natural scene — there were no significant symptom reductions for insect phobia. “This suggests it was neither the calm natural scene, nor the fun/fantasy associated with viewing a Marvel superhero movie, that was solely driving effects, but rather the specific exposure to ants and spiders in the context of a Marvel movie.”
The authors’ next steps are to study the potential benefits of Marvel movies for helping treat post-traumatic stress disorder.