Wooster College student researching the effects of ASMR on social cognition

Amy Huffenberger is an undergraduate student in the Neuroscience department at Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio.

She is doing her senior thesis project on ASMR, under the guidance of Professor Grit Herzmann Ph.D.

Amy shares her motivations, research objectives and challenges, and also offers insightful suggestions to future ASMR researchers.

Below are my questions in bold, followed by her replies in italics.

How did you become inspired to do a research project on ASMR?

Amy: “This project is really just a product of unsatisfied curiosity.  I’ve personally experienced ASMR for as long as I can remember, and around age seven, I mentioned to my mother, “I like that sound! It makes my head feel sparkly.”

She had no idea what I was talking about, and neither did my father, so I was always curious about what that reaction was.

When I discovered the term “ASMR” through the Internet, I wanted to learn all that was available on the subject, but as has been the case for anyone in the same position prior to 2013, I couldn’t find any scientific literature on the subject.

That was frustrating. ASMR is too fascinating and too relevant to people’s everyday lives to not pursue scientifically.

So when my senior thesis rolled around, I chose to study ASMR through the lens of social neuroscience.”

What are the objectives of your research project?

Amy: “My current research experiment investigates the effects of ASMR on certain aspects of social cognition. Most specifically whether or not having recently experienced ASMR might enhance an individual’s ability to accurately read other humans’ facial expressions.

I’m also currently conducting a survey aimed at collecting data on the demographics of the online ASMR community, each member’s personal experiences with ASMR, and members’ opinions and impressions of the online community itself.

Depending on the results, the study may yield some suggestions about which directions future research might want to focus, but this research can’t and doesn’t seek to make any definitive conclusions about ASMR or how it works on a physiological level.”

What challenges have you encountered so far with your research project?

Amy: “Most of the problems I’ve encountered were par for the course in research: obtaining equipment, recruiting participants, finding usable stimuli, etc.”

The biggest roadblock thus far was in trying to acquire computer software that would allow me to collect skin conductance response data (a measurement of autonomic nervous system arousal) on my experimental participants and then discovering that the software was incompatible with the rest of my equipment.”

What advice would you give to other researchers interested in ASMR?

Amy: “One thing I’ve picked up from this project is to anticipate that people don’t necessarily react to ASMR-eliciting materials in any of the ways that you expect them to.

Before beginning this experiment I had never heard of someone having an extremely negative emotional reaction to a close-personal attention ASMR video, but such a thing happened, and afterwards the participant said she had not withdrawn because—out of unfamiliarity with ASMR—she thought that the video was supposed to cause a negative emotional reaction!

Ergo, if I had any specific advice for other/future ASMR researchers, it would be to remind each new participant that ASMR-eliciting stimuli are not meant to be upsetting and reiterate the participant’s right to withdraw as many times as you need to!

I would also advise anyone interested in beginning new ASMR research to obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Human Subjects Review Board (HSRB) for their research, even if it is not otherwise required. These boards’ job is to protect the rights of human research participants, and besides being morally/professionally correct, it adds a great deal of credibility to one’s work to be able to show that it was conducted ethically.”

Online access to Amy’s research survey has expired, but you still may be able to take her survey by contacting her via ahuffenberger15@wooster.edu.

Click HERE to learn more about other current research in social cognition.

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This post brought to you by ASMR University.  A site with the mission of increasing the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

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