Carrie Gates | March 6, 2018
Richie’s Plank Experience begins when a participant steps into an elevator and pushes the button simply marked “plank.”
When the elevator doors open, there is nothing ahead except a narrow wooden beam, jutting out from the side of a skyscraper more than 50 stories in the air.
In the distance are other buildings and, farther away, mountains. Far below are the sidewalk and the sounds of traffic in a virtual city.
For the daring, it is a chance to defy the sudden pounding of their hearts, the sensation of vertigo, and to walk out into thin air, to the end of the plank.
But for a team of Notre Dame psychologists, it is much more than a virtual reality game — it is the next frontier in mental health treatment.
Nathan Rose, Jennifer Hames, and Michael Villano, along with Jesse Cougle of Florida State University, are conducting research on the use of virtual reality environments in exposure therapy for participants with a fear of heights.
“Acrophobia — fear of heights — is one of the most common phobias,” said Rose, the William P. and Hazel B. White Collegiate Chair in psychology. “And while the standard therapy is extremely effective, people don’t always do it because it requires going to a clinician and it can be expensive.