Kerin Higa is a student in the Neurosciences Graduate Program at University of California, San Diego.
She has published research about behavioral abnormalities in mouse models of psychiatric illness and is currently researching how mitochondrial dysfunction may be contribute to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders.
Kerin also enjoys writing about science for the general public and science communities.
She has written for the “Gene-of-the-week” blog for biogps.org and is currently writing for the neuroscience blog, NeuWriteSD, which was founded by students in her graduate program. Her writing topics have included hoarding, dissociative identity disorder, and additional behavioral mysteries.
But the latest blog topic she tackled was the science of ASMR. Her in-depth article is titled “Technicalities of the tingles: the science of sounds that feel good. #ASMR” and was posted at the NeuWriteSD blog on June 11, 2015.
In my interview with Kerin she shares her love for Bob Ross, the five most important points in her article, helpful tips for writing about the science of ASMR, and more.
Below are my questions in bold followed by her replies in italics.
What inspired you to write the blog article?
Kerin, “One of my best friends uses ASMR videos to fall asleep. She asked me how it worked, so I told her I’d investigate and report back. It’s such a fascinating topic, and so many of our friends had never heard of it, so I felt it was my duty to share what I found on the blog.”
Do you experience ASMR?
Kerin, “I don’t experience the ASMR tingles (although, as I note in my post, I do experience frisson—the music-induced tingles). I really hope that finding ASMR triggers is like finding your soul mate… Everyone has one (or more), we just have to be patient and some day we will find them!
I do enjoy Bob Ross though, who has been called the “godfather of ASMR.” Well before I knew about ASMR, I knew about the godfather and loved falling under his relaxing spell. What an amazing man!”
What were your major goals for the blog article?
Kerin, “I use my blog posts as excuses to read a lot of science that is unrelated to my thesis work. I didn’t start writing the post with any angle, I just wanted to know more and share what I learned!
I guess my underlying assumption was always that ASMR is a real phenomenon that can absolutely be studied scientifically, so the implicit goal was to convince readers of that.
What do you feel are the five most important points you explain in your blog article?
“1. ASMR is a real phenomenon!
2. ASMR is not inherently sexual.
3. ASMR is probably occurring through many conscious and unconscious pathways at the same time.
4. The reward and pleasure pathways activated by ASMR triggers are the same as those that are involved in drug, food, and sex enjoyment/addictions.
5. ASMR is similar in many ways to misophonia, or “hatred of sound,” and the two probably share some overlapping mechanisms.”
What do you think readers will find the most interesting in the article?
Kerin, “I think the existence of ASMR and the ASMR community is really interesting, and a lot of readers (who I’ve talked to) had never heard about it before. For readers who already know about ASMR, I think the connection to misophonia is pretty intriguing.”
What information in your article surprised you the most as you were writing it?
Kerin, “There are so many phenomena that are related to ASMR. I was alarmed and overwhelmed by the number of connections that could be made to already existing literature on music, pleasure, reward, and even meditation (see below).”
What resources would you recommend to others whom are writing about the science of ASMR or want to learn more about the science of ASMR?
Kerin, “Since there isn’t much available on ASMR directly, I think the most informative way to learn about the science of ASMR is to learn more about associated topics, some of which I didn’t have time to mention in the post.
For example, the evolution of human music appreciation is fascinating and could explain how enjoyment of seemingly random ASMR triggers might have evolved (for that, I turned to good old Charles Darwin and a blog post by Carl Zimmer). Zatorre and colleagues have done extensive research on the fulfillment of musical expectations, which leads to frisson tingles that might be related to ASMR tingles.
The science of pleasure and reward is also really interesting and way more complex than you might imagine (Berridge is the leading voice in that department, so I recommend some of his reviews if you’re up for the challenge).
I think a lot of the research behind ASMR has already been done… we just have to make the right connections!”
What reactions have you received to your article?
Kerin, “The article was well received! A common response has been, “Wow, that’s so interesting… and so weird!” But a few people have discovered their triggers as a result of the post, which is exciting!
My friend, Emily, who inspired the post, found out that several of her friends, including her roommate, also experience ASMR. It’s not something people often bring up in conversation, so I was happy to facilitate that discussion.”
Do you have any plans to do ASMR-related research?
Kerin, “Unfortunately, I have no means to do so in my current lab. I don’t think ASMR occurs in mice, and even if it does, it’s such a subjective experience, it would be difficult to track!”
If you could create any experiment to discover or prove one thing about ASMR, what would it be?
Kerin, “Hmmm… There are so many questions! I guess I’d first like to determine if there is indeed increased connectivity between the auditory cortex and the limbic system in people who experience ASMR. Localizing the different regions that are active before and during the tingles would help focus future experiments, so it would be awesome to be the first to publish those results!”
Do you think the stimulation/use of ASMR has therapeutic potential?
Kerin, “Absolutely! As someone who has lost many potentially productive days to YouTube, I have some concerns about the addictive potential of the videos, but I think that people suffering from insomnia, depression, and anxiety should be encouraged to try it out! With professional support and scientifically based recommendations, I think it could be really helpful for a lot of people.”
Click HERE to read Kerin’s article about the science of ASMR. She has also hinted that her next post may be about the science of mindfulness meditation, flow, and binaural beats. You can keep up to date with Kerin via Twitter @kkiritah.
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