In 2012, Bryson Lochte selected ASMR as his research topic for his undergraduate Senior Honors Thesis at Dartmouth College. He chose to investigate the effects of ASMR videos on the brain by using fMRI analysis.
fMRI stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging and reveals changes in the blood flow to specific areas of the brain. His project’s goal was to demonstrate which areas of the brain show increased activity while participants watched ASMR videos.
In February of 2013 Bryson posted a thread on the ASMR subreddit website requesting volunteers for his research project. He completed his thesis by May and submitted the results to the Dartmouth College Library Catalog.
In November, 2013 Bryson posted on the ASMR subreddit site that he would not be able to publicly release a copy of his thesis until his data was published.
Bryson graduated from Dartmouth College in 2013 with his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience. He is currently a medical student at the University of California, San Diego.
In my interview with Bryson he shares an update on his undergraduate thesis data, his inspiration for delving into ASMR research, his current ASMR research project, his insights into the biology of ASMR, advice for those researching ASMR, and more.
Below are my questions in bold, his replies in italics, and links to his website, his LinkedIn page, and his original ASMR subreddit post.
When did you first learn about ASMR?
Bryson, “I randomly found some ASMR videos on YouTube, probably around 2011. I thought it was interesting at the time, but I didn’t think much about it again until I started brainstorming for my senior honors thesis.”
What inspired you to do your undergraduate honors thesis on ASMR?
Bryson, “I was probably most inspired by all the people in the ASMR community who are so curious about ASMR and optimistic about its potential impact.
I hadn’t really set out to study ASMR, it was more a happy coincidence. I was surprised to find no one had published any research on ASMR and, at the time, I was in a lucky position where I had access to fMRI tools and the freedom to pick a research topic.
Everything just fell into place. Once I reached out to the community for volunteers, all the emails I received from people talking about how ASMR had improved their lives and helped them cope with diseases like anxiety and insomnia were really motivating. I’m very grateful for all those emails.”
Do you have some favorite ASMR artists and/or ASMR videos?
Bryson, “I’d have to say Maria (GentleWhispering) and Ilsa (TheWaterwhispers) are two of my favorites. I consulted with them both when I was originally designing the study. They seem like amazing people and I think it shows in their videos.
A couple videos that are important to me are:
- “Nails Tapping” by s0othings0ounds – This was the first ASMR video I ever watched and it’s one of my favorites from an aesthetic perspective.
- “Face Paint” by VisualSounds1 – This is the video I stumbled on when I was brainstorming my research project in 2012, and is largely what inspired me to conduct my study. It just seemed so strange and interesting. I had an uncomfortable visceral reaction, but when I read the comments describing a pleasurable tingling sensation, it made me think that this type of video might be having a unique effect on the brain.”
What were the objectives and methods of your senior honors thesis?
Bryson, “The objective was to understand what was happening in the brain when a person is watching an ASMR video. The study involved subjects watching a compilation of popular ASMR videos while their brain activation was being recorded via fMRI.”
What challenges did you experience during the creation and completion of this study?
Bryson, “The largest challenge, by far, is doing research on a topic that hasn’t been studied that much yet. A lot of scientific research is built on the back of previous studies, using methods that the lab is comfortable with and insights from similar studies to answer a new question.
While my study emulated the techniques and design of other studies, a lot of the study had to be built from scratch to accommodate the properties of ASMR. This meant a lot more planning, consultation, and trial and error before we could begin.”
What can you share about the findings of your senior honors thesis?
Bryson, “Unfortunately, nothing right now. This study involved multiple authors and funding from Dartmouth College, so the results aren’t “mine” to release.
Moreover, if any of the results from the original thesis get released it could jeopardize the study publication in a journal. Hopefully, this research will be published and publicly available as soon as possible but, until then, I won’t be able to discuss any of this information.”
Will the findings of your undergraduate thesis be published or made publicly available?
Bryson, “My undergraduate research was approved by a thesis committee at the Psychological and Brain Sciences department at Dartmouth College. However this doesn’t mean it’s been published. I’m in the process of writing up a manuscript for publication in a scientific journal right now, and this process is taking a lot longer than I had thought.”
What additional ASMR research have you been involved with since your senior honors thesis?
Bryson, “I conducted another ASMR study to specifically examine brain activation during the ASMR experience. This study only used ASMR sensitive volunteers and involved them indicating the specific time periods when they felt ASMR.”
What are your plans for the publication of your latest research?
Bryson, “I’m still working on the manuscript and I haven’t submitted it for publication yet. The publication process can be very long, and I can’t give a definite date, but it is ‘in the pipeline.'”
Has your understanding of ASMR changed over time?
Bryson, “Absolutely! ASMR is still a mysterious experience to me and I’m learning new things all the time. Beyond the quantitative information I’ve found from my study, I’ve learned a lot anecdotally by talking with and meeting with many people who experience ASMR.
I used to think there is a specific “type” of person that experienced ASMR, but I’ve been surprised so many times by the people who report ASMR that I’m not sure if it will correlate with personality.
I’ve also noticed that a lot of people with ASMR will talk to their parents who will reveal they’re also ASMR sensitive. While this is just an observation, it could indicate ASMR is a genetic or inherited trait.
I’ve probably watched more ASMR videos than anyone who isn’t ASMR sensitive. I’ve tried many times to experience it, but no luck. Maybe I haven’t found the right video, but, from personal experience, I’m fairly certain that ASMR is something you either have or you don’t.
The most exciting thing I’ve learned about ASMR is how much it has helped people manage anxiety and insomnia. I think part of the reason that the scientific community has been slow to study ASMR is because those who know about it consider it a quirky internet phenomenon, a topic that might be interesting but not necessarily worth a serious financial/intellectual investment. If ASMR is found to have a clinical use then it would be a much easier topic to study.”
What advice would you give to others whom are considering doing ASMR-related research?
Bryson, “ASMR is a challenging topic to study because so little is known about it, but that also makes it very exciting. One benefit of researching ASMR is that subject recruitment was very easy because the community is so excited and eager to help out and volunteer.
Right now there are lots of anecdotal reports of ASMR but very little quantitative evidence. Make sure you are clear with how you define “ASMR” for your study because, online, the definitions aren’t always 100% consistent.
Most importantly, if you’re interested in researching ASMR try to work with a good laboratory that has the tools and open-minded attitude needed to study this topic.”
What do you think are some key research studies that should be done on ASMR in the near future?
Bryson, “If I could do a few more studies on ASMR I would try to focus on the following directions:
1. A behavioral (e.g. improved detail perception) or physiological marker (e.g. blood pressure, heart rate variability, pulse, respiration, pupil dilation) of ASMR
2. ASMR’s effect on brainwave activity (EEG)
3. Clinical use of ASMR for sleep
4. A study with a large randomly selected population that could answer questions like “What percent of the population experiences ASMR?”, “Is ASMR heritable?”, “Do personality traits correlate with ASMR sensitivity?”
In my opinion, if you’re working in a sleep lab with an EEG then you might be in the best position to study ASMR right now.”
What do you think the future holds for the understanding and application of ASMR?
Bryson, “While the term ASMR is becoming more and more popular, it’s still a relatively unknown term for most people. I’m confident that there will be a lot of new research on ASMR, and this research could open up new clinical and entertainment applications.
The big question is how long it will take. Basic science research is a very slow process, and clinical research is even slower (often taking more than 10 years). While this might seem like an eternity in “internet time”, trust that research is on its way. Once a few ASMR studies are published, I’m confident many more will follow.”
Click HERE to visit Bryson’s Website:
Click HERE to visit Bryson’s LinkedIn page:
Click HERE to read Bryson’s initial post on the ASMR subreddit site.
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