Dr. Tammy Dempster has her BSc in Psychology and her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuropsychology. She is currently researching ASMR and misophonia with colleagues at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK.
About a year ago she first learned about ASMR and quickly became fascinated in the topic. She has now created an online research survey to begin collecting data to help progress the understanding of ASMR and to help guide further ASMR research projects.
In my interview with Dr. Dempster she shares how she first learned about ASMR, the objectives of her research study, some preliminary trends in the data collected so far, and more.
Below are my questions in bold, her replies in italics, and a link to her online research survey so you may participate.
How did you first learn about ASMR?
Dr. Dempster, “About a year and a half ago I was working on a research project which involved working in quite a noisy and distracting environment. I was on YouTube trying to find something which I could listen to on my headphones which would block out the environmental noise I was surrounded by without serving as an additional distraction and I ended up stumbling across some ASMR videos.
I’d never heard of ASMR so I looked it up and was fascinated not only by the description but also by the number and range of ASMR videos available on YouTube and the number of views they get.”
Do you have a favorite ASMR artist or ASMR video?
Dr. Dempster, “I have several but there is such a large number of ASMR artists and such a fantastic range of content available that I’d feel unfair only naming a few.
There are some incredibly creative and dedicated people making these videos and a running theme in their explanations for why they started their channels often seems to be so they can give something back to the ASMR community.
There are so many ASMR artists taking time out of their day to make videos for the community to enjoy just because they feel so passionately about providing ASMR content for people. The time and effort (and in some cases expense) many of the artists clearly put in to making these videos for people is pretty amazing.”
What motivated you to create a research study about ASMR?
Dr. Dempster, “The most popular ASMR artists have literally hundreds of thousands of subscribers. There are individual videos which get millions of views. There are Facebook groups for people with ASMR to talk about their experiences and some of them have thousands of members.
There is clearly, then, a lot of people who watch these videos and who experience ASMR and yet hardly any research seems to have been published on it. This is despite the fact that quite a large portion of the ASMR community seems (from what I’ve read on forums and ASMR threads) very keen for people to do research in to this.
I would love to know what is going on in the brain when people are experiencing ASMR. And why it is that some people know exactly what this is like and other people struggle to understand what it is.
I’m really interested in what the difference is between people who can and people who can’t experience ASMR. These are such interesting questions to me and I’m really keen to try and find out the answers.”
What are the objectives of the study?
Dr. Dempster, “The overall objectives are to get more research published and to try and get more researchers aware of ASMR and hopefully inspire them to start doing research into this too, which will hopefully lead to more understanding about what ASMR is and what the differences are between people who do and people who don’t experience it, etc.
With regards to this study more specifically, this is the first in a series of studies we have planned. The idea of this survey is to try and provide an overall picture of the ASMR experience as a starting point for more research.
At this stage we’re interested in things like the type and variety of triggers and experiences, age of onset, and co-occurring conditions to give us a base from which to work from.
We’re also interested in how many of the ASMR community also have misophonia (and, likewise, are also investigating how many of the misophonia community experience ASMR). Misophonia is where certain sounds (or the sight of certain movements in the case of misokinesia) cause people to feel extreme rage and/or disgust and gives them an overwhelming urge to either escape the trigger or hurt themselves and/or the person committing the trigger.
Things which trigger ASMR in some people cause misophonia in others, and vice versa, and we are interested in whether there may be a link between the two because in many ways they seem like polar extremes of the same scale.
We hope to publish the findings but our aim is also to use the data we get from this survey as a guide for designing the next stage of research.”
Have you had any challenges with the creation or implementation of the survey so far?
Dr. Dempster, “So far I’ve found the ASMR community very warm and welcoming. The community seems very keen for more research to be done and seem keen to help.
At this stage we are hoping to get as many people as we can from the community to fill out the survey to try and ensure that the data we get is as representative of ASMR community as possible.”
Can you share any interesting findings or responses so far?
Dr. Dempster, “I have been very interested in seeing the results of the age on onset. Whilst some people did not experience ASMR until they were adults or teenagers, most of the respondents so far remember ASMR experiences from a young age. This is interesting for many reasons and, for me, is evidence against arguments I’ve read that the ASMR community are somehow causing each other to ‘imagine’ these experiences. The evidence very much is that people generally experience ASMR before they become aware that others experience it too. I don’t think this is something that will surprise the ASMR community but it might surprise some of the people who are skeptical about the existence of ASMR.
Something I’ve been surprised about is which triggers are currently coming up as being the most and the least common. The respondents so far have been most likely to say whispering and least likely to say eating sounds are their triggers. There are a lot of eating sounds videos available and I thought it would be one of the more common triggers. It’s hard to tell until we get more responses, the sample size we have so far may simply just not be big enough to be representative yet and so this may change, but these initial results still surprised me.
Another thing which is particularly noticeable in the responses so far is the male to female ratio. Three quarters of the respondents so far have been female. Again, I don’t know if this is actually representative of a difference in people who experience ASMR or just between those who have seen/filled out the survey so I am interested to see if the proportion changes as the number of people who fill out the survey increases.”
How have your colleagues, family, and/or friends reacted to you doing a research project about ASMR?
Dr. Dempster, “ASMR is generally not something which most people I talk to have heard of before so it often sparks a lot of interest and conversation.”
Do you have plans for additional ASMR research in the future?
Dr. Dempster, “We definitely plan on doing more research in this area. This survey is just the starting point for what we hope to do.”
What advice would you give to others whom are interested in doing a research project about ASMR?
Dr. Dempster, “Do it! It’s a fascinating area and I personally think it warrants a lot more investigation.”
What do you think the future holds for the understanding and applications of ASMR?
Dr. Dempster, “People in the community are reporting using ASMR for various reasons other than just because they like how it feels. There are people who use ASMR to help them relax, to help them sleep, to help them counteract misophonia…
ASMR does have a lot of potential and the more we understand it the more likely it is that we will be able to harness that potential to help people.”
Click HERE to participate in Dr. Dempster’s research survey (survey will remain open until at least August 16th 2015).
Click HERE to learn more about the Psychology Programme at Canterbury Christ Church University.
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