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Use of Digital Stimulation in the Treatment of Phobias: Results Following EEG and Evoked Potential

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To verify the usefulness of visual stimulation in CBT techniques or systematic desensitization and flooding, through the study of neurocognitive responses (ERPs) to specific and repetitive phobic or neutral stimuli, in patients with specific phobias. The study involved 2 groups, both composed of 20 subjects: an experimental group and a control group. Slideshows consist of randomized phobic images, whose characteristics are personalized for the specific phobia, and neutral images identical for all subjects. The ERPs recorded during visual stimulation were analyzed, distinguishing the potentials generated by phobic and neutral stimulations. The ERPs present typical waves (P1, P2, P3a, and P3b) that represent the cortical processing of the image. The study shows, in phobic subjects with specific phobic stimuli, an increase in P2 component amplitude due to greater activation of cortical networks by emotional response and the increase in amplitude of P3b component compared with the control group, probably in relation to looking for specific details of the phobic image. It is interesting to note that P3b component tends to regress during repetitive stimulation. The study showed that, through digital stimulation, phobic patients become accustomed to the presentation of phobic stimuli with an average decrease of 12–13% in P2 and an average reduction of 25% in N2. This result allows the hypothesis that this stimulation is useful to replace stimulation in vivo, or as a preparation for it. The variation of the potential evoked during the stimulation can help the therapist modulate the stimulation itself. The authors also propose to continue the development of this research also using the development of augmented reality (VR).

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Correspondence to Davide Clemente or Leonardo Davì or Ettore De Monte.

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All participants gave informed consent and explanations were provided on the experimentation that they would participate in, remaining available for further clarification even after participating in the study.

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Clemente, D., Davì, L. & De Monte, E. Use of Digital Stimulation in the Treatment of Phobias: Results Following EEG and Evoked Potential. J. technol. behav. sci. 5, 40–46 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-019-00111-z

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  • Phobia
  • Stimulation
  • Potential evoked
  • CBT
  • Systematic desensitization