University of Basel Logo Phobias known as disproportionate fear of certain objects or situations may often be treated by a specific form of psychotherapy. Among the variuos types of phobias, fear of heights appears widespread. Investigators from the University of Basel now claim that administration of the stress hormone cortisol allows people with fear of heights to overcome their fear.

At the time of the study, 40 people with vertigo were made to visit three sessions of exposure therapy within a week. While half the people were provided with cortisol in tablet form one hour prior to treatment, the other half was on a placebo. Participants were then exposed to twice a virtual fear situation, only three to five days after the therapy session and once a month. The height of anxiety was measured through a questionnaire and by using the electrical resistivity of skin.

As a results, those receiving cortisol before the treatment reported a considerably greater reduction in anxiety level as compared to the placebo group. Prof. Dominique de Quervain, director of the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Basel, and colleagues are planning further studies to analyze the effect of cortisol in combination with psychotherapy for other anxiety disorders.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.