Room 101

Warning: The following 'blog entry contains graphic descriptions and a few photographs of large spiders. Less than a week ago I would not have wanted to read it under any circumstances. (And now I wrote it--hooray for Science!). Also, it is ridiculously long. If you want to read a very short account that doesn't involve the word "spider" or any pictures thereof, go here.

About a year ago Katya pointed out a poster to me on campus. It said, "Do you suffer from spider phobia? Receive free exposure therapy and $100!". She pointed out that I was afraid of spiders, and that $100 is a lot of money. I looked at her like she’d gone mad. "Exactly. I’m afraid of spiders. Do you know what ‘exposure’ means!? There’s nothing on this earth that I need $100 for so damn badly that I’d do that study".

I could really have used $100 for a new bike, and if the study had been on snakes, say, or koala bears it would have been a godsend. Alternatively, for a hell of a lot more I'd have exposed myself to whatever they wanted me to! What wouldn't I do for ten grand, really? But I could make a hundred bucks just by spending a month walking ten miles to and from work, and even in February that seemed infinitely more appealing.

Eventually, however, I realized that if (in some crazy, alternative universe) I did do the study, I could use the $100 to get a tattoo. I could get a tattoo of a spider, because I wouldn’t be frightened of them anymore, and I’d be able to show my grandkids that I’d done this terribly brave thing. It was like the ultimate extreme sport, and a chance to face my fears in a very literal sense. Moreover, unlike sky diving or BASE jumping, this was guaranteed safe. It wasn’t even guaranteed safe, it was (virtually) guaranteed that I’d emerge from the study more healthy than I entered it--this type of therapy boasts a 95% success rate world wide. Finally, there really is something to the whole "do something that you are terrified of" idea. It was good for me and, furthermore, I'm really proud of myself for doing it.

By the time all of that occurred to me I had missed the boat on last year's pilot study, and I had to wait until the 15th of February (last Sunday). At the time it was quite a relief to be told that I couldn't do the study, but when they called a couple weeks ago I screwed up my courage and signed on.

The $100 and the exposure therapy were both very nice, but they were fairly unimportant to my decision to do this. I really was* quite frightened by spiders, and signing up for this might be the bravest thing that I've ever done. That's worth a lot to me. I have pretty high standards, but I’m really proud of myself for this.

In the week leading up to the study (a terrible week, perhaps not coincidentally) I was a little worried about whether I had somehow become less arachnophobic. Or that I had simply inflated my fears in my head, and that I wasn't so much "afraid of spiders" as I was "afraid to think about spiders because I thought I was afraid of them". Of course this was in the context of a week doing my utmost not to think about the coming Sunday.

This was easily put to rest when I arrived at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and filled out the first survey. Questions like, "When exposed to a spider, do you believe that it will crawl on you towards your private parts" or "... pop up ten times as big with other spiders" were so horrific to me that all doubts were set aside. Yup, I was still afraid of spiders.

I'd been afraid of spiders for as long as I can remember. It was worse before I went to Australia--after seeing those Huntsman spiders, the ones back home simply couldn't compare. Lately (over the past couple of years) it had started to get even better, slightly (I never would have been able to sign up for the study in 2004, say) and I have a theory about why my fears had improved. Back in June I read an article in Monitor on Psychology about virtual reality exposure therapy for phobias, and it occurred to me that, addicted as I am to World of Warcraft, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time interacting in a safe manner with (crude depictions of) large spiders. I’m convinced that I’ve been inadvertently treating myself for years now, with fairly small but noticeable effect.

Anyway, after completing the survey (and proving to myself that although I was comfortable enough to sign up for a study, I was still scared out of my skull) I changed into a hospital gown and climbed into the fMRI machine*. One interesting thing about the study was the queer mix of high and low tech that is (I believe) is common in modern science. The machine I was strapped into was a gleaming white sarcophagus, right out of A Space Odyssey. It was so cutting edge, so expensive, that it cost nearly a thousand dollars an hour to use.

Once inside, however, I was shown the stimuli via what was really only half a step above a PowerPoint presentation--extremely crude software. I was asked to rate my fear on a scale of 0 to 100* using four buttons--two on my left to raise and lower the tens digit, and two on the right for the ones digit. These buttons were made from stock Radio Shack parts, and all but duct taped together. Frequently I had to push them multiple times for them to register.

I suppose that's how science gets done in America--scientists are allowed the absolute bare minimum of money, and therefore they purchase the minimum necessary to get stuff done. The Radio Shack buttons didn't always register and were kind of ugly, but they did get the job done. The fMRI machine is probably also the bare minimum, but for a process that is so terribly complicated (measuring blood flow to the brain based on the iron content in the red blood cells) even the minimum is ridiculously expensive.

This is the other cool thing about fMRI experiments—and I beg your pardon for this Victor Hugo worthy digression--is that they already seem to be historical relics. I frequently use devices that feel modern but are eventually replaced by new technology that make them seem ridiculous (like my first Kyocera, or my old Apple II+. It’s a little strange, though, to use something that looks futuristic but feels dated. In a way, fMRI technology reminds me of early navigational techniques.

Nowadays we pinpoint our location via GPS satellites, but a few hundred years ago the greatest minds in Europe struggled to concoct half a dozen bizarre and jury-rigged solutions to the problem—I highly recommend Dava Sobel’s book on the subject.* I'm reminded of early photography, also, where they would immobilize their subjects with straps, open the shutter, and ignite a bunch of magnesium--very clever and, hey, it worked! But compared to snapping a shot with a pocket camera it is quite crude.

Which brings us to the problem of measuring brain activity. At this point, we know that different parts of the brain work on different sorts of things, so that the bit that processes photographs is a different bit than the bit that, say, solves Sudoku puzzles*. However, we don't know which bits do what, and we haven't invented any way to find out exactly. We can observe which muscles flex when people perform some acrobatic feat, but we don’t know how to see what parts of the brain "flex".

However, we do have a jury-rigged kludge: fMRI. Some fantastically clever person* realized that when parts of the brain were being used more than usual, they required more blood (more oxygen). They knew that red blood cells have a high iron content, and that iron is ferrous. So, in theory, you can tell which part of the brain is in use by tracking the presence of magnetic elements in the brain. How clever!

In practice, however, it's a bit ridiculous. It's as good as we’ve got--I don't mean to imply that it isn't cutting edge Science!, merely that it's the sort of thing that we'll look back on and laugh. The state of the art involves running ginormous electromagnets up and down over the subject's head, to detect the red blood cells. Of course this means that if the subject has any metal inside, that metal will be ripped right out and stuck to the wall of the machine--including braces, piercings, or artificial hearts. I had to fill out a safety survey promising that I hadn't had any metal-related injuries recently--sometimes microscopic shards of metal can remind in the body... at least until they're jerked free by large electromagnets.

The whole process is ridiculously loud, as well, even with industrial-grade noise-cancelling ear phones. And, just like in old fashioned photography, too much movement will blur the photos and make them useless, so the subject is essentially strapped in tight. They told me not to make any facial expressions, even

Partially the ban on facial expressions speaks to yet another difficulty with fMRI—they’re mapping the whole brain, all the time. So there‘s some damn part of my brain that is in charge of making facial expressions, and whenever I grimaced or winced that bit would call for more blood. They didn't want that part to mess up their picture of the rest of it.

I was shown five photographs of large spiders, asked to rate my fear level, and then shown five images of pretty moths, and asked to rate my fear level of them. Ultimately they will take the image of where the blood was distributed in my brain while I was going off my head with the spiders, (which probably shows all sorts of activity, with blood getting sent all over the place) and subtract the data from when I was merely admiring the spots on the photos of the moths.

So whatever part of my brain was getting blood in order to type in numbers, or to keep myself breathing, or just to deal with the weirdness of being in a tiny, loud box was just as active during either situation. But the "HOLY SHIT, SPIDERS!" part of my brain was only active for part of the time. After analyzing both sets, they are left with a picture of just the differences involving fear.

That's the theory, any way. If it worked perfectly, they'd do the test a thousand times, and wind up with a map of the brain that showed that one or two particular regions were only ever active (i.e., only ever had increased blood flow) when the subject was dealing with fear. Then they could excise them surgically, and create Daredevil.

Actually, in this study the real point is to examine someone’s brain while they’re going nuts looking at spiders, and then examine their brain after they’ve had the exposure therapy. If the therapy works, the differences should be dramatic—whole areas of the brain that were in use aren’t needed anymore, or are used much less.

So, at any rate, there I was, strapped* into an incredibly noisy chamber. They showed me images of spiders, and images of moths (they had previously established that I wasn't at all bothered by moths--just spiders) and asked me to rate them. Then there was another round of spiders, and so on. And these were big spiders--no daddy longlegs were involved. I was shown spiders in a variety of environments (the ones sitting on humans’ hands were the worst) a variety of species (the hairy ones were by far the worst) and orientations (the ones pointed at me were the worst).

It wasn't nearly as bad as I had been expecting, and in fact there was even one spider that I kind of liked--it was a beautiful shade of green, with big eyes. It looked kind of relaxed. I think I rated that group of spiders (the nice green one and four others) a 35 or 40 out of 100. Most of them were around 45 or 55, and there was one terrible group that got a 75 from me. This went on for about twenty minutes or so (but felt like it took at least a week).

The last session was a habituation study, which was exactly the same except that they only used a single spider image and a single moth image. As it happened, the spider they chose was one that I initially rated a 35--not too bad. It was orange and red, very pretty, and didn't seem too stressed. The moth was very pretty, too, I might add--orange with leopard spots. After seeing the orange spider for twenty or thirty seconds, rating it, and then the moth, and rating it, my ratings dropped considerably. It didn't take long before the fear rating for the moth was simply 0 (initially I was scared, among other reasons, because I knew that seeing an image of a moth meant that I would shortly be shown an image of a spider!) and the spider rating dropped to around 19. I felt a bit uneasy about it, maybe a tad tense, but nothing more (and I was able to appreciate the black and white, almost translucent, banding on its legs).

I should add that although I keep mentioning these ratings, they're almost certainly the least important part of the experiment. I'm sure they'll check the correlation between blood flow and rating, and they prove that I was engaged and paying attention*, but for the most part they were extraneous. Why do they need me to tell them how I felt? They were reading my mind with Science!

They finally let me out, and I was mad disoriented after my hour in the Machine. When I returned, I would start the exposure therapy portion--hooray! Exposure therapy is a relatively new treatment for all sorts of anxiety disorders (ranging from phobias to obsessive-compulsive disorder).

The theory behind this therapy couldn’t be a better fit for my own worldview—it says that fear is primarily based on ignorance, and by learning more about a subject and spending time with it, one will inevitably come to understand it and will lose the fear. Habituation plays a big role, as well--you can only expect the worst to happen for so long, before your mind gets bored and realizes that it won't happen.

In addition, the goal is to provide a visceral, physical experience to counteract the half-formed mental ideas. I’d had a lifetime of vague notions about how scary spiders were, but after spending about two hours with one I know have a huge wealth of contrary notions, and these are grounded in a way that the fear never was. The therapist helped me to understand the spider, and to see it as it really was, and not how I feared it to be. It sounds like a really cheesy anti-racism song from the 80s, but it totally works.

The therapy works in stages: Katherina, the experimenter and also the therapist, did fourteen things and, when I was ready, I did them too. These things ranged from sitting there quietly and not freaking out, even though there was a very large spider in an aquarium in the same room (the first step) to actually touching the damn thing* (the final step).

This form of therapy has a 95% success rating (which is pretty phenomenal, really) and the experimenter herself has never had a single failure. There were folks in this study who were way more phobic than I am--people who really didn't think that they could live on their own, out of their college dorms, because they were worried about the possibility of spiders. These folks have all, eventually, pet the tarantula like it was a kitty. She encouraged me to bring a camera because folks often want a picture to document it all.

I'd already met the spider, as it happens. For the very first part of the experiment, she showed me an empty hall*. After I stepped out of the hall, she put the aquarium with the spider at one end and asked me to walk towards it until I felt that my fear rating approached 50. I could have gotten closer than I did, if I'd needed to, but it was very clear to me that 50 (well, maybe 55 or 60) started about ten feet away. I added that it would have been a different story if it had been moving, and she told me that just about everyone said so.

From down the hall it simply looked like some grey-brown object and, as I got a little close it could have been a furry mitten or a couple fuzzy caterpillars. I could even note that from ten feet away there really wasn't anything objectively frightening about it, but I did not want to get any closer.

After returning from my three-hour break, I climbed back into the machine for another fifteen minutes of slides--this was much the same as the first round, although I don't think I had any seventy-level groupings this time. Still, though, each time I saw a moth I thought, "Ok, maybe this will be the last slide and it will be over", and every time I saw a spider I cringed and tensed. I managed to avoid (for the most part) curling my toes; instead, I tightened my hands as hard as I could around the boxes with the buttons and concentrated on breathing.

When that was finally over, I began the part that I had been dreading--the exposure therapy itself. First, however, we did the Hallway Test again. After seeing so many photos of Terrible Spiders, I was emboldened enough to approach a whole two feet closer to the Dread Cage, meaning that I got within eight feet before my fear level went up to 55.

Then the therapy began. First I read some brief material the described the therapy, and how it worked. This was done in the same room as the spider, which was in a cage on a shelf at the far end, mercifully covered by a cloth. The therapist was there as well, and was careful to ask me if it was ok to leave me alone when she stepped out of the room for a second. At this point I was fine, if a little on edge.

When I'd finished reading, she asked me if I was ready for her to remove the covering. She was really great about respecting my fear, and not making me feel embarrassed as I slid my chair over against the door. She then revealed the spider, which still hadn't moved and still looked like a bit of grey cloth in the corner of the cage.

Over the next ten to fifteen minutes she told me everything I'd ever wanted to know about spiders, and encouraged me to (ever so slowly) inch my chair closer. Again, she was very respectful, and if she ever did suggest that I move close I always felt that it would have been just fine to say, "No, thank you, not right now". I did feel a bit awkward sitting far away from a spider and not saying anything, which meant that I asked her an awful lot of questions. She had clearly prioritized her facts, however, and told me information in the order in which it would decrease my fear the most.

So, for example, one of the first things that she told me was that spiders have only two senses: touch / vibration, and sight. Moreover, their sight is extremely limited, such that for all practical purposes they are blind. In other words, although I was sharing a room with a spider, the spider had no way of knowing that there was anyone else in the area, except that its aquarium had recently been shaken a bunch.

Then she told me that, because of the shaking (which she had done on purpose) the spider was "frightened" and was curled into a protective crouch. It hadn't been moving around because its behavior, when threatened, was the curl up and freeze--to go tharn, essentially. She pointed out that (although she understood that I was frightened of it) it was really just a "small, furry scared thing" waiting for the predator to leave. She told me that this species didn't bite, and that it really only interacted with her at all by slowly moving away when she touched it.

One technique of Katherina’s that I really admired was that she would ask me questions about it, pointing out some detail or another that I was too far away to notice. "Look at how her legs are segmented," she'd say, although from across the room it still looked like a piece of cloth. Eventually I edged just close enough to noticed that yes, in fact, each leg had four segmentations. Then she told me that it was an "Orange Rose Tarantula" (I think that's right) and asked me whether I could make out the orange tint on its fur (I did, five or ten minutes later). She told me that it was as soft as a rabbit, and pointed out how shiny and sleek its fur was. With these questions she was making me engage analytically (which counteracted my fear) but also making me really see the spider, examining it closely from however far away I was comfortable with.

Eventually I got within a couple feet, and she moved the cage to the table in the center of the room (while I hung out be the door, in case it twitched or something). The next step was to touch the aquarium, which involved sitting very close to it indeed. Katherina continued to point out details about the spider (who was named Florence) and I got to really look at it. I've been afraid of spiders my whole life, and so I've avoided them at all costs. This means that in thirty one years I had never actually seen a large spider. Not really. Even when I was looking at the photos in the fMRI machine I was so stressed out by them that I couldn't take in the details.

And so I was fascinated to learn that Florence, at least, was beautiful. She had so much hair that, really, she could be called "fluffy", and it was the same color as my mother's cat (mottled grey and brown). The thorax / head area was covered in a hard-looking shell (which reminded me of a turtle) with a round ball on top, in which there were two tiny eyes. And, of course, there were legs everywhere.

At this point the cognitive dissonance really started in for me, which was one of the more interesting parts of the whole process. It was for all the world like that optical illusion, where sometimes it’s a goblet, and sometimes it’s a pair of faces. Sometimes Florence looked like a strange creature that I had never seen before, quite and docile and grey and furry. It really did look harmless. But before long something in my head would shift and it would become a huge (and she was, in truth, three and a half or four inches long, which is not tiny) terrifying spider. One of the previous subjects had said that Florence simply "wasn’t a spider"—that the word spider meant a certain thing (a terrifying, fearful thing) and that since Florence clearly wasn’t that thing, there needed to be a different word for her. That made a lot of sense to me.

Now matter how gentle and harmless she appeared, however, I was very reluctant to put my hand on the glass by where she was sitting. Yes, I knew that she couldn’t see me and didn’t care about me, yes it was very clear that a thick wall of glass separated us anyway, I still didn’t want to do it. Eventually and with great trepidation, I touched the top of the cage, and then the side, and then put my palm against the spot where Florence was sitting. This was step number five of 14.

The next step was to watch as the therapist stroked Florence's back, in order to get her to move. Florence was reluctant to do so at first, but eventually ambled slowly around the cage. I did not like it when she was headed my direction, and the therapist was quick to rotate the cage so that this was uncommon. I also really didn't like they way her legs flailed about as she walked--it seemed unpredictable and scary. Katherina pointed out that because she was blind, Florence was simply feeling around before taking a step, which was helpful to hear. She also pointed out how frightened Florence was of her. Actually, "frightened" is probably too anthropomorphic--she simply ambled along in the opposite direction of the therapist's finger.

I didn't fully appreciate until afterwards just how docile Florence really was. All throughout part of my mind was worried about frightening her. Even when I was willing to make contact I was still very reluctant to touch her when she was backed into a corner. This is just common sense, after all--animals lash out when cornered or frightened. Hell, I try to avoid cornering my cat! But, apparently, this species of spider really, truly, has only one defensive reaction--if things get too scary, it crouches down and freezes up. That's it. I mean, even cows grunt at you if you get them riled up enough, but as I understand it, in Florence's world there are only two stimuli: vibrations from things that are small enough to eat (in which case, cautiously amble over and see if you can eat it) or vibrations from bigger things (in which case you just hope that it can't see you). And, with her coloring she probably blends right in with the desert floor.

So, my brain was still shouting warnings at me as if I were watching someone dip their feet in a piranha tank, but in reality it was like watching someone standing next to a sheep at the State Fair.

Eventually the therapist moved Florence into a plastic tub, with lower walls, and we took turns stroking her with paintbrushes. That was pretty scary at first: somehow, even though I'd watched her getting prodded around and around for half an hour, part of me was convinced that when I touched her some awful thing would happen. It did not, and the next two stages (touching Florence while wearing a thick gardening glove, and touching her while wearing a thin latex glove) weren't so hard for me.

Which left only the final step: stroking the huge hairy spider with my finger. By this point my ambivalence was off the charts. I was entirely convinced that she was harmless, and it even felt, at a visceral level, that it would be nice to feel how soft she was, and that it would be safe and easy. At the same time, a very loud quarter of my brain was still screaming "Danger, danger, good lord, get away, don't let it touch me!"*

When I finally did, Florence didn't even seem to notice. Apparently she was generally not very concerned about the world at large. Certainly my tentative brushing of her rearmost leg hairs wasn't worth reacting to, although it definitely got my heart rate going. When I recovered I was eventually able to touch the back of her abdomen, and she took a slow step or two away. She was just as soft as I'd been told.

That was technically the last step in the fourteen step process, but I also tried one final thing--having her approach me and make contact. It turned out that Florence really dislikes the feel of human skin--I suspect that it's too soft and wubbly for her--my cat Byron dislikes walking on blankets for a similar reason. So as little as I enjoyed the idea of her crawling on me, she liked it even less. Katherina herded her towards my hand, but whenever she touched it with the tip of her leg she immediately picked it up again and refused to come any closer. I can't say that I minded this decision of her's.

The therapy was interesting because it was a continual experience of real fear bordering on panic, which before long became mild discomfort. At which point I would try something else that evoked real fear again. By that point, though, the initial fearful thing was no longer even uncomfortable. By the time I could screw up my courage and put my palm against the glass where Florence was sitting, I was more or less chill about just sitting near her. And by the time I was stroking her with a paint brush, putting my hand against the glass was a non-issue.

The final stage of the study was to do one last round of spider / moth / spider / moth photos in the fMRI machine. At the beginning of the day, when she was cautioning me against making any facial expressions, Katherina had mentioned that some people found it hard not to smile at the spiders. It sounded weird to me then, and after that fist round of images it was inconceivable. And yet when I climbed into the machine for the last time, after I was strapped in and mentally braced myself for another round of horrific photographs, it was all I could do not to grin from ear to ear.

These images were of the exact same types of spiders that the other images had been--just as large and just as hairy but now they weren't terrifying at all! The types of spiders that I remembered being so frightened of earlier (that I had rated a 75 out of 100) were now down in the high 30s. The images of moths, of course, floored out at 0 early on, so I was certainly more worried about the spiders than the moths, but it was a completely different experience from that morning. I could make out details that I was too terrified to see, previously. And for the really scary images (photos from eye level, with the spider facing the camera were still pretty hard for me) I was able to remind myself that these spiders were just like my friend Florence back in her aquarium, that they were probably just as soft, and that if I touched them they would probably amble slowly in the other direction like sheep.

My mother is a Gestalt therapist, and she runs a depression group, so I understand that in real life psychological therapy is never like it is in the movies. People spend years or decades trying to improves their lives, and they never simply jump up after a single session and say, "You’ve done it, Doc! I’m cured!". This was different, though (and, sadly, this kind of treatment wouldn’t work at all for depression). It really did take only two hours to undo thirty-one years of fear. As I say, I’m still nervous about spiders (there’s still that huge difference between when looking at photos of moths) but it’s nothing like it was last week. Also, with further exposure (which is now much more easy for me to get, since I’m not longer terrified of them) the fear should continue to decrease. You did it, Doc! I’m cured!

That all happened on Sunday, and as a quick test the next morning I did a Google Image search for "Orange Rose Tarantula". I had to repress a shudder as I typed it in, and I hid the window off screen and slowly dragged it up--my mind was still convinced that spiders are terrifying, even though they no longer are. More importantly, the idea that I would ever have typed those words into Google was laughable a few days ago—I’d rather have stuck my hand in the stapler.

I was perfectly calm after the page loaded. For the ones that did still scare me, I actually visualized myself petting them the way I had pet Florence, and that was enough to calm me down. After the experiement was over, I had asked Katherina to take the photos below when I got to work the next day I set them up to rotate on a sidebar on my monitor at work. In the interests of re-exposing myself to the previously frightening thing, I now have photos of Florence on my desktop.

As I said, I'm very proud of myself for doing this. I had originally conceived of it as being like an extreme sport, or like a ritual test of courage, an ordeal. To celebrate and commemorate my accomplishment, I'm hoping that my cousin (one of them--both of the Asheville brothers are incredibly talented artists) will design a tattoo for me!

* How awesome, in going back to edit this rambling text, to change that "am" to a "was"!

* And my impulse, after years of trying to train myself out of saying "ATM machine" is to simply call it the "fMRI", which isn't enough.

* Where 0 was "meditative" and 100 was the most awful thing that had every happened to me. It made me realize, once again, what an awesome, cushy life I’ve lead—I really couldn’t think of anything to use as a baseline for 100.

* Especially if read concurrently with Eco's The Island of the Day Before, which also deals with the quest to determine Longitude. These schemes ranged from the ridiculous to the brilliant, but they were all crude hacks because they simply didn’t have the necessary technology.

* Please correct me if I'm wrong--one of the interesting things about neuroscience is that it isn't always intuitive--the same part can work on two seemingly unrealated things. Also, it's adaptable; people can lose a part of their brain that does thing X, and eventually a different part may take over the job. And that is pretty much everything that I know about the subject.

* Apparently it was Drs. Roy and Sherrington, in the 1890s, although the first actual images weren’t done until about twelve years ago.

* No actual straps were involved, but the machine was so tight that I may as well have been strapped in place. There was also a big cage that fit over my face (with a clever system of mirrors attached) that showed me a computer monitor. And I was warned not to wiggle my feet of scratch my chin. I'm glad I didn't have to sneeze, I can tell you!

* Occaisionally a red dot would appear in the middle of the image, and I was asked to push a button as soon as I noticed it. This was to prevent folks from simply clamping their eyes shut and entering made-up fear ratings.

* I don’t know if you can tell, but parts of this were written before the therapy, parts were written afterwards, and parts were written during my lunch break in the middle. I wouldn’t use the phrase "the damned thing" anymore.

* And it's amazing how ominous it sounds with a psychological experimenter says, "Come over here, and I'll show you this empty hallway".

* Sort of like America’s reaction to same-sex marriage. Good news, America—you’re almost cured!

Note: Pictures of a large spider are below. If you've already read the above, they probably won't bother you, but if I'd been reading my friend's 'blog last week and stumbled on them, I would have been very upset indeed!

it's so fluffy!
Cute fluffy spider.

(as you can probably tell, I have zero problem with spiders. I am vaguely concerned when I'm in the vicinity of [wild] large predators and poisonous snakes, but I tell myself there might be logical reasons to be afraid there.)

I actually think I'd much rather have spiders in my house than most insects. Certainly rather have spiders than roaches.
I am so proud of you, Benjamin! How totally gold to face your fears like that.
I'm so curious about how you got so scared, since I vanquished many of my fears by acting nonchalant for your benefit. I even held snakes so youwouldn't get scared!!
Anyway, congratulations! I love you