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Open AccessArticle

The Equivalence between Virtual and Real Feared Stimuli in a Phobic Adult Sample: A Neuroimaging Study

1
Universidad de La Laguna, 38200 La Laguna, Spain
2
Servicio Canario de la Salud, 38004 S.C. Tenerife, Spain
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(12), 2139; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8122139
Received: 4 October 2019 / Revised: 27 November 2019 / Accepted: 2 December 2019 / Published: 4 December 2019
The clinical use of virtual reality (VR) has proven its efficacy, especially when used as an exposure technique. A prominent property of VR’s utility is its equivalence with the reality it represents. In this study, we explored this equivalence in a clinical context using neuroimaging. A sample of 32 adults with specific phobias (i.e., to cockroaches, spiders, or lizards) was divided into two groups: One was exposed to phobic stimuli using VR and the other was exposed to real phobic images (RI). We used brain activations as a dependent measure, focusing specifically on brain areas usually associated with fear processing. Whole-brain analysis detected higher activations for RI in the hippocampus, occipital, and calcarine areas. A specific analysis of the amygdala and insula also detected higher activations and extensions in response to RI, but VR stimuli also activated those areas in a significant manner. These results suggest that even in those cases where RI stimuli activate all of the brain’s fear-processing circuits, VR stimuli do so as well. This implies that VR can be useful as an exposure technique similar to RI and applied as more than a mere training mechanism. View Full-Text
Keywords: virtual reality; real phobic images; anxiety disorders; specific phobia; fMRI; neuroimaging virtual reality; real phobic images; anxiety disorders; specific phobia; fMRI; neuroimaging
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MDPI and ACS Style

Peñate, W.; Rivero, F.; Viña, C.; Herrero, M.; Betancort, M.; De la Fuente, J.; Álvarez-Pérez, Y.; Fumero, A. The Equivalence between Virtual and Real Feared Stimuli in a Phobic Adult Sample: A Neuroimaging Study. J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8, 2139.

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