Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy delivered by virtual reality (VR) has been shown in a number of studies to be a safe and effective way of reducing anxieties. A state-of-the-art VR cognitive behavioural treatment has been developed for fear of heights that is automated, engaging, and deliverable via the latest consumer equipment. The aim of this study is to test whether the VR treatment reduces fear of heights at the end of treatment, and whether the treatment gains are maintained at follow-up.
Who can participate?
People aged over 18 who report a fear of heights
What does the study involve?
Participants are randomly allocated to receive the VR treatment or no treatment. The VR treatment is provided in six sessions over about a fortnight. Fear of heights is assessed using questionnaires at the start of the study, after treatment, and two weeks after the end of treatment.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
The potential benefits for participants are a reduction in their fear of heights. There are unlikely to be any risks in participating although sometimes people get short-term motion sickness with VR (though this has not been found to occur with this VR set-up).
Where is the study run from?
University of Oxford (UK)
When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
May 2017 to May 2018
Who is funding the study?
Oxford VR/Nowican (UK)
Who is the main contact?
1. Polly Haselton
2. Prof. Daniel Freeman
Ms Polly Haselton
King Charles House
Park End Street
+44 (0)7388 872 383
Prof Daniel Freeman
Department of Psychiatry
University of Oxford
Using virtual reality (VR) to reduce fear of heights: a parallel-group, randomised controlled trial of a virtual reality cognitive behavioural therapy based programme for fear of heights
The primary hypothesis is that the VR treatment, compared to a non-intervention control group, will reduce fear of heights at the end of treatment.
The secondary hypothesis is that the treatment gains will be maintained at follow-up.
University of Oxford Medical Sciences Inter-Divisional Research Ethics Committee, ref: R52909/RE001
Parallel-group randomised controlled trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Randomised controlled trial
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format, please use the contact details to request a patient information sheet
Fear of heights
Participants will be randomly allocated, stratified by fear of height severity and using randomised permuted blocks, to VR treatment or control (no treatment). The VR cognitive behavioural treatment for fear of heights is automated and is delivered in six sessions, typically lasting 20-30 minutes, over approximately a fortnight.
The outcomes are self-report assessments of fear of heights, with neither participant nor researcher blind to randomisation allocation, conducted at 0, 2 (post-treatment), and 4 weeks (a fortnight after treatment ends).
The outcomes are self-report assessments of fear of heights, with the researcher administrating the assessments blind to randomisation allocation, conducted at 0, 2 (post-treatment), and 4 weeks (a fortnight after treatment ends).
Primary outcome measure
Fear of heights, assessed using the Heights Interpretation Questionnaire (Steinman and Teachman, 2011) at 0, 2 (post-treatment), and 4 weeks (a fortnight after treatment ends)
Secondary outcome measures
Fear of heights, assessed using the Acrophobia Questionnaire (AQ) (Cohen, 1977); Phobia Avoidance item 3 (IAPT, 2008) at 0, 2 (post-treatment), and 4 weeks (a fortnight after treatment ends)
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
1. Adults (18+ years old)
2. Fear of heights (Heights Interpretation Questionnaire score of 30 or greater)
Target number of participants
Participant exclusion criteria
1. Current psychological treatment for fear of heights
2. Unable to travel to research appointments
3. Photosensitive epilepsy
4. Lack of stereoscopic vision or balance problems
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
King Charles House Park End Street
Funding Body Type
Funding Body Subtype
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
Submission of a paper to a peer-reviewed psychiatric/mental health journal in May 2018.
IPD sharing statement
The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are not expected to be made available. The data will be held by Oxford VR.
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Not expected to be available
Basic results (scientific)
2018 results in: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30007519