In 2015, Emma Barratt and Nick Davis published the first peer-reviewed research study about ASMR. Their data were collected from online surveys and were very helpful to provide support about the sensations and potential applications of ASMR.
Now, Stephen Smith, Beverley Fredborg, and Jennifer Kornelsen from the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada have published the second peer-reviewed research study about ASMR.
A key difference between these two publication is that the more recent publication by Smith et al is the first biological publication about ASMR.
The publication is titled, “An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)” and is published in the journal Social Neuroscience.
The authors recruited 11 individuals whom experience ASMR (ASMR-sensitive group) and 11 individuals whom did not experience ASMR (control group).
Both groups underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate if there were any major differences in their brain activity. The method of fMRI directly measures blood flow in the brain which gives an indirect but mostly accurate indication of brain activity.
[Note: The ASMR community and others have been greatly curious about what fMRI might reveal about ASMR since 2013, when Bryson Lochte initiated and completed fMRI studies about ASMR for his senior thesis project. Although Bryson has not yet been able to publish his initial studies, he has continued to use fMRI to investigate ASMR and may be publishing some data soon.]
The imaging by Smith et al was done in the absence of ASMR triggers to identify potential underlying and baseline neuroanatomic differences between the two groups.
Beverley Fredborg, one of the authors of the study, highlighted a key finding of the study in an email to me,
“The data demonstrated that the ASMR-sensitive individuals had some brain areas showing greater functional connectivity as compared to controls, and also some brain areas with decreased functional connectivity as compared to controls.
This does not mean that there is more or less activity in those areas as compared to controls, but that there is more or less functional connectivity, or, highly correlated neuronal fluctuations between brain areas that typically show strong correlation within a non-ASMR brain.
So, for a lay example, if in a non-ASMR brain two brain regions are always ‘talking’ to one another, we would call them “functionally connected” – they “talk” at the same time and stay “quiet” at the same time.
In our findings, ASMR brains had areas that tended to talk to one another more, and other areas that talked to each other less (as compared to controls). So it wasn’t that they had less activity in those areas, just less functional connectivity.”
The authors hypothesize that ASMR-sensitive individuals may have a “reduced ability to inhibit sensory-emotional experiences that are suppressed in most individuals”, and caution that the data “…do not indicate that ASMR is a psychopathology. In fact, the opposite may be true…”.
In other words, the ability to experience ASMR may not be a disorder, but rather a structural difference which grants a special window to experience relaxation.
Future studies are suggested in the paper as ways to reveal even more about the anatomy and physiology of ASMR.
Click the links below to learn more about this publication:
- (Part 1: this article).
- Part 2: Interview with the authors.
- Podcast episode: Audio summary.
- Publication: Access their published research study.
Click the links below to learn more about ASMR research:
- Tips: How to be an ASMR researcher.
- Insight: Interviews with ASMR researchers.
- Browse: ASMR research and publications.
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