Beverley “Bev” Fredborg recently received her B.Sc. degree in Biopsychology from the University of Winnipeg in Canada. As part of a summer project, she is continuing an ASMR research project about personality traits which she was involved with as an undergraduate student.
I’ve reported on several students working on ASMR research projects previously, but this one has two important differences which demonstrate the progress of ASMR research.
The first important difference is that her faculty advisor, Dr. Stephen Smith, was already investigating ASMR when she joined the ASMR research project. Dr. Smith is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Winnipeg and has expanded his research interests to include ASMR.
The second important difference is that Bev is researching ASMR with the support of an Undergraduate Student Research Award, a grant provided by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This is the first grant I have heard about that supports ASMR research.
This research project demonstrates that university faculty and funding agencies are supporting ASMR research with their time and money, respectively – this is a positive sign for the progression of the field of ASMR research.
In my interview with Bev and Dr. Smith they share how they each became involved in ASMR research, the objectives of their research project, their differing views about the future of ASMR research, and more.
Below are my questions in bold, their replies in italics, and a link to their research survey (survey open until July 17, 2015).
• What inspired you both to become involved with ASMR research?
Bev, “My close friend has ASMR and I was fascinated by it. When I heard that Dr. Smith was doing an experiment on it, I asked him (as his undergraduate honours student) if I could help with the project. He was kind enough to let me take on the project, and so we have been studying ASMR (along with our collaborator Dr. Jennifer Kornelsen from the University of Manitoba) since September 2014. Although my undergraduate honours thesis project did not give us any substantial results, it has served as a stepping stone for our other research projects, such as this one!”
Dr. Smith, “I first learned about ASMR from a student in my Introductory Psychology course. After a lecture about perception and synesthesia—a condition involving a blending of the senses—she asked me about ASMR. I admitted that I’d never heard of it, but promised to look up some of the research on the topic so that I could help explain the neuroscience underlying her experiences. I was quite surprised to discover that no one had performed any scientific studies of the topic. So, the research project initially started as a way to answer a student’s question. We’d originally planned to do a case study of this student’s brain using MRI.”
Dr. Smith, “The ASMR project was still in its infancy when Bev joined the lab. I knew of one individual with ASMR and was planning to perform a brain-imaging study with her (in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Kornelsen at the University of Manitoba). At this point, my ASMR research was a small “side project”. Once Bev joined my lab, it became apparent that there was a thriving ASMR community in Winnipeg, and that it would be possible to do a number of different studies on this topic. Having a hard-working student focusing exclusively on this project has helped it morph into something much larger. The personality research is part of it, along with some ongoing brain-imaging studies.”
Dr. Smith, ” I’m still not entirely sure what ASMR is. It’s quite similar to synesthesia, a condition in which perceiving one sensation can lead to automatic experiences in other senses, such as a sound producing a taste. We need to perform more research to determine if ASMR is a subtype of synesthesia or a unique condition. Regardless, ASMR is fascinating to me.”
• What are the objectives of your research project?
Bev, “We want to better characterize personality traits that underlie this interesting condition.
Dr. Smith, “The large-scale question that we’re looking at is “what makes people with ASMR different from the rest of the population?” It’s clearly not a disorder, but people with ASMR do have qualities or abilities that differ from the rest of us. In order to understand any new phenomenon, we try to examine it in as many different ways as possible. Given my background, I’m more comfortable looking at the biological and cognitive elements. But, understanding whether there are sets of personality traits that are more common in this group also provides us with some important insights about ASMR.”
• Have you had any challenges with the creation or implementation of the survey?
Bev, “Since Dr. Smith is a cognitive neuroscientist, he had little experience with survey-based research, which this study consists of. It was somewhat of a challenge for us both to learn to navigate the survey software (Qualtrics) and create a survey that was intuitive and accessible for our participants, but I think we have found success with our survey.”
Dr. Smith, “When we started this project, there were no ASMR questionnaires available. So, Bev had to spend quite a while developing her own ASMR Checklist. This process was useful though, because it forced us to think about what people with ASMR really experience and how that might be a reflection of their personalities. In a way, making up a checklist helped show us which personality measures might differentiate individuals with ASMR from the rest of the population. The current research is a direct result of those brainstorming sessions.”
• Have you had any interesting responses to the survey?
Bev, “We had a lot of helpful suggestions which was somewhat surprising, as we had pilot-tested the survey extensively and did not think we could add anything more to it. However, since neither of us have ASMR, it does make sense that those with the condition would have better ideas than we did! Some of the suggestions included adding a space for comments, and more clearly differentiating between types of stimuli.”
• Can you share any general findings so far from the research project?
Bev, “Those with ASMR seem to be more open-minded and relaxed than other participant groups, but this is more anecdotal evidence from physically meeting with people who have ASMR as opposed to an actual result of our survey.”
Where do you see the understanding and perception of ASMR in ten years?
Bev, “A cynical answer: once the neural correlates of ASMR are more-or-less figured out, along with personality (or other) research carried out on those with the condition, interest in this topic will probably slowly peter out, à la synesthesia, which is a topic that isn’t turning out as much research as it once was. The good news is I don’t think researchers will stop until they “figure it out” best they can. So I don’t picture this “petering out” happening for a while.”
Dr. Smith, “I think that ASMR is just beginning to appear on the “RADARs” of psychology and neuroscience researchers. Some researchers have conducted survey-style studies, which provides us with a solid understanding of ASMR’s characteristics and of how much these experiences vary across individuals. It’s almost certain that a few brain-imaging studies will be published in the next couple of years. If these studies produce interesting patterns of results, I would guess that we’ll see a rapid increase in ASMR-related research in the next five years. It’s tough to predict if this will be a short-lived trend, or if ASMR will become a larger area of research. Either way, the next couple of years should be exciting for individuals with ASMR who are curious about the different biological and cognitive components of their experiences.”
What advice and/or encouragement would you give to others considering doing a research project about ASMR?
Bev, “Stay organized and don’t be nervous to ask for help when you need it, especially if you are an undergraduate student who is new to research. Science is inherently collaborative and a team effort – we are all in this together! Also, because I’m Canadian, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – that’s a quote by Wayne Gretzky.”
Dr. Smith, “I’m not sure I would give any advice that would be specific to the study of ASMR. I tell all of my students in my lab and in my classes to be curious about everything. There are no stupid questions. Sometimes research ideas go nowhere; sometimes they end up introducing you to an interesting new topic like ASMR.”
Click HERE to take their survey about ASMR and personality traits (survey open until July 17th, 2015)
Click HERE to learn more about Bev Fredborg
Click HERE to learn more about Dr. Stephen Smith
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