This cost-benefit efficacy was similarly obtained for ant phobia (myrmecophobia) when viewing a seven-second excerpt from the movie "Antman".
"The results open a new direction in the efficacy of positive exposure which should be further considered. The findings suggest that a fun, available and in-vitro exposure may be very powerful," said Menachem Ben-Ezra from the School of Social Work at Ariel University.
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 that 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 researchers noted.
Professor Ben-Ezra and Yaakov Hoffman of Bar-Ilan University exposed 424 subjects to "Spiderman" and "Antman" movie excerpts to see if spider and ant phobic symptoms would decrease. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.
Exposure therapy for specific phobias (like 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.
According to the researchers, superhero movies may have many beneficial psychological attributes.
"Such movies not only help people feel better about themselves, they provide a contra to hectic and stressful lives by showing us the true underlying spirit of one confronting his/her fears," they noted.