Undergraduate student researching ASMR, flow states, and highly sensitive person traits

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityAnna Zajac is an undergraduate student at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.  She is in her final year as a Psychology Major and is working as a research assistant at her university.

In addition, she is an intern at Sensum Co., a marketing research company which specializes in neuromarketing.

Anna has teamed up with Dr. Jonathan Rolison to do her senior dissertation thesis on ASMR.  She has decided to apply her research skills and computer software experience to investigate the relationship of ASMR with flow states and highly sensitive person traits.

In my interview with Anna she shares her inspiration for doing a research project on ASMR, the objectives of her project, advice to others considering doing research on ASMR, and more.

Below are my questions in bold, her replies in italics, and links to learn more about her and her thesis supervisor.

How did you decide to do a research project about ASMR?

Anna, “When I discovered ASMR, I was really curious about the science behind it. However, I soon realized that there were no studies conducted on the matter.  Recently though, I found the first published paper by Barratt and Davis (2015) who used a survey online to gather information on the phenomenon.

Since I was entering my final year of study, which requires me to produce a thesis, I thought “Why not conduct my research on ASMR?”.  Since it has been my major interest for a long time and it’s so understudied, I could conduct my own study and add to what we already know.  I really wanted to use some biometric measurements, however it would have been too extensive for a one-year study.”

What is the title of you research project?

Anna, “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: The Degree of Flow State and Sensory Processing Sensitivity on the Intensity of ASMR.”

Who is your faculty supervisor for your dissertation?

Anna, “My thesis supervisor is Dr Jonathan Rolison.  When I first told him that this is what I wanted to do, he laughed, because he didn’t know what it was or what it meant.  

However, after carefully explaining to him what the phenomenon entailed and disclosing the framework which I developed for the study, he was very supportive of it, and continues to do so.  I am very happy with my supervisor, as not everyone gives their student a free pass to undertake their own research of interest.”

What are the objectives of your research project?

Anna, “I have thought about this quite extensively because there were so many ideas I had about the topic of ASMR and what I could research in my thesis.

Two of my three main objectives incorporate the theory of flow and the theory of highly sensitive person trait (HSP).  I want to determine whether these two factors have any influence on the intensity of ASMR that one could be experiencing and also if those could be predictors of being able to experience it.  My third objective of this study is to find out which media format (audio, visual or both) triggers the most intense ASMR.

I am so passionate about this topic and I’m really excited to see the results, even if I don’t find anything significant, because then we can pick and choose topics for future studies by a process of elimination.”

What methods will you be using?

Anna, “I don’t really want to go into details and bore you with technical stuff, but I will be using a program for the main task which is already written, I just modified it to suit the purpose of my study.  There will be a task where participants will be able to watch a video in three different media formats to get triggered.  They will also complete a highly sensitive person trait questionnaire and a flow state questionnaire.”

What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge with this project?

Anna, “I think the biggest challenge with this project will be trying to recruit individuals who experience ASMR.  None of my friends have it or have even heard of it, nor did my family.  It may be that their ASMR is not as profound, and their trigger tastes are quite specific.

Also, because ASMR is such a subjective sensation, everyone is so diverse when it comes to what triggers them and what they consider a borderline misophonia [unpleasant reaction to sounds]. Therefore, I’m afraid that the video I pick for this study will not be triggering enough for some people.”

What excites you the most about your research project?

Anna, “The entire thing!  The sheer fact that I am able to conduct this study under one of the loveliest supervisors.  The planning, the designing, the recruitment; all of this is so exciting because this is my study and I am able to take it whatever direction I please.

Every day I try to read and research more about flow and highly sensitive person trait as well as ASMR and some of the things I find sometimes are so fascinating!  It really makes me happy as this is the topic that I am genuinely interested in.

How many thesis students can say that they sincerely enjoy their thesis topic?  I am so grateful and blessed with the opportunities I have been given from the university and my supervisor.”

What is the timeline for the completion of your project?

Anna, “I just finished my ethics form, so it won’t take long for the study to get approved.  I’m planning on starting testing at the end of November, and maybe carrying it through until February.  Then I need to do some analysis and write a report on the whole study.  The report needs to be submitted at the end of May.”

Have you had any challenges finding appropriate resources about ASMR for your project?

Anna, “I started to think about doing my thesis on ASMR when I was in second year of my degree, which was in 2014.  Back then, there were no papers published on ASMR therefore I was a little worried that I would have to abandon the idea of choosing ASMR as my thesis topic.

However, closer to the end of my second year, I discovered a published paper by Barratt and Davis (2015) which has done some preliminary research into ASMR, namely qualitative research using questionnaires and different scales e.g. flow state scale.  It was the first scientific paper on ASMR that I could find.

I kept checking Google Scholar every so often, and more and more papers started to appear, so I have built up my library of ASMR papers.  There is not a lot of them, but so far it is sufficient for my purposes.”

Do you experience ASMR?

Anna, “I experience very profound ASMR.  It doesn’t take much for me to be triggered. I love all kinds of triggers, especially those that are quite unique such as using everyday household objects that I wouldn’t even think of using for ASMR, like plastic wrappers or a Rode cleaning wipe (used by MassageASMR).  My main triggers would have to be tapping, whispering, soft speaking and again, that Rode packet is probably my favorite.”

Do you have a favorite ASMR artist or ASMR video?

Anna, “My most favorite ASMR artist is without a doubt GentleWhispering.  When I first discovered ASMR, it was her video that gave me this enormous euphoric feeling at the back of my scalp, the tingles.  She was, and still is, the most delicate and genuine ASMR artist I know, and her videos really reflect that.

It may sound strange, but in her videos it really seems like she’s speaking to me, like there is no barrier between her and the viewer.  She makes it seem very real.  And this is the kind of rapport that should exist between the viewers and ASMR artists.  Some ASMR artists are naturals, and those would trigger me the most.”

Where do you see the understanding and perception of ASMR in ten years?

Anna, “I really do hope that in ten years’ time, we will have a biological explanation as to what ASMR really is, the mechanism under which it operates, and under which conditions can it be experienced, as well as why don’t most of people experience ASMR.

It really is an amazing phenomenon.  I use it every day to fall asleep or to focus when I’m studying or doing work.”

What advice and/or encouragement would you give to others considering doing a research project about ASMR?

Anna, “Don’t be afraid to test the boundaries!  If you have an idea or a hypothesis, and you think it would tie in with ASMR, research it!

We need all the help we can get and all the explanations we can produce.  If you don’t have the facilities, speak to someone who has or can provide the facilities for you.

The ASMR community is growing faster and bigger every day, and it is so amazing to see all the support from people who experience it.”

Click HERE to learn more about Anna Zajac.

Click HERE to learn more about Dr. Jonathan Rolison, her thesis supervisor.

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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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