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In Focus: Psychology Department Experiments with Virtual Spider in Research Computing Virtual World
In Focus: Psychology Department Experiments with Virtual Spider in Research Computing Virtual World
Psychology Department is Using AZ-LIVE for Spider-Fearful and Spider Phobia

Spiders—the word alone can trigger automatic anxiety in some people. Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias with reactions ranging from mild (spider fearful) to severe (phobia). Sarah Burger, a graduate student with the College of Psychology, working under the direction of her advisor, W. Jake Jacobs, Ph.D., is using the Arizona Laboratory for Immersive Visualization Environments (AZ-LIVE) to measure the reactions of study participants when confronted with their fear in a virtual setting.

After a tour of the AZ-LIVE facility Burger realized the potential of visualization for testing and advancing her theories in both a live laboratory setting and in a virtual setting.  She and her team collaborated with Marvin Landis, a scientific visualization specialist and consultant, to create a 3D environment complete with a lifelike animated tarantula. In the 3D setting, student participants are seated at the end of a virtual long table wearing special 3D glasses. At the opposite end sits the spider, which the participants' guide close toward themselves via a joystick. Researchers record the participants' reactions as the spider approaches. Once the comfort level of the participant is no longer tolerable, they have the option to hit a panic button, which stops the spider from moving closer and suspends the simulation. The 3D visualization services at AZ-LIVE provide a virtual way for the participant to interact with the spider, and the simulation mirrors a real-life version of the experiment with an actual live spider. 

Using the virtual world of AZ-LIVE for her research has opened more doors for Burger's research. The next step is to focus on particular areas of the virtual spider to help learn which parts of the spider (e.g., the mandibles, eyes, and legs) trigger the most fear and phobia. She also wants to use the virtual spider to desensitize participants prior to interacting with a real spider. "If we have a better sense of what the experience is like in the virtual setting relative to a real setting and whether it translates to a real setting, we can see if that gives them any jump towards being ready to deal with a live tarantula," Burger said.

Scientific Visualization consultant Marvin Landis is intrigued by the opportunity to expand the use of 3D visualization beyond the classic rendering of statistics and models for the hard sciences and into other arenas.

AZ-LIVE is open for all researchers who have a use for it. For more information about scheduling a tour or a consultation with Marvin Landis, email vislab@arizona.edu.