PhD student researching ASMR through the experiences of ASMR video viewers

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityHelle Breth Klausen is pursuing her Ph.D. from the Department of Media and Journalism studies at Aarhus University in Denmark.

For her PhD dissertation she will be characterizing ASMR through the experiences of ASMR video viewers.

In my interview with Helle she shares why she decided to study ASMR, her primary hypothesis and methods, preliminary results she acquired with her Master’s dissertation, and her plans to share the results from this project.

Below are my questions in bold, her replies in italics, and a link to learn more about her and her project.

What inspired you to do a research project about ASMR?

I have always been able to ‘get the tingles’ personally, so when I stumbled upon some ASMR videos on YouTube a few years ago, I thought to myself: Here is something that combines a personal and an academic interest, so the idea of researching ASMR was born.

Also, I noticed that not much academic research had been done on the subject, so that was also a motivation for me.

What is your main research question/hypothesis?

My main research question is:  How do users perceive and make use of ASMR as a mediated phenomenon?

This overarching question will be put through the following four objectives:

  1. Preparation of a number of media textual analyses with a view to identify and conceptualize ASMR videos on YouTube
  2. Description and definition of what characterizes ASMR as a digital, performative variety, including what makes YouTube especially suited as a platform for ASMR
  3. Qualitative analyses of how users describe, articulate and discursively frame their experience of ASMR in a sensory, social and cultural manner (looking in the comments on YouTube)
  4. Development of theories and methods to analyze multi-modal sensory phenomena on YouTube, including ASMR videos with the purpose of contributing in general to research on multi-modal experiences online.

What methods will you be using to address your research question and objectives?

Especially for objective number 3, I plan on using an eclectic mix of qualitative and (n)ethnographic methods in order to analyze data ‘in-depth’. I specifically want to examine a selective sampling of comments from a number of different YouTube videos, looking for the users’ framing of their experience with ASMR – in other words: How do people describe what ASMR is to them, including what difference it makes in everyday life.

As the project methodically will be constructed from the classic approaches of Grounded Theory, the qualitative, empirical methods such as line-by-line coding and situational mapping will be used to create a profound and inductive groundwork and to let the fragments of data speak. I thus want to center the users in my project, and I am very much interested in what and how they write about ASMR.

You have done some preliminary research already on this topic with your Master’s research project, what initial results did you find?

The initial results from my Master’s project showed that the users’ statements about ASMR on chosen videos and threads on YouTube and Reddit can be categorized into four overall clusters:

  • one concerning the sensory response in relation to ASMR (‘what’),
  • a second concerning the mediated mode of expression (‘how’),
  • a third on the community which surrounds ASMR (‘who’)
  • and a forth concerning the purpose of seeking out the phenomenon (‘why’).

Most notable among the comments on the response itself was that users are having a hard time defining it accurately, which is why many of the users on both YouTube and Reddit turn to metaphors and analogies on relaxing, zoning out and alike in order to describe the response as it feels.

The mediated mode of expression was however a bit more concrete in the sense that technology – and especially sound technology – is the number one facilitator when it comes to experiencing ASMR synaesthetically and haptic, as several of the users express. Some users even claim to have experienced ASMR in such an immersive way that they forgot about the distinction between here (offline/physical) and there (online/virtual).

Another important part of ASMR as a phenomenon – that has not to do with the above-mentioned ‘what’ or ‘how’ – is the community consisting of thousands of users and uploaders from across the world engaging in and practicing ASMR despite differentiated time and place. Most notable was here the level of trust, the (distant) intimacy and the passion for ASMR that the members of the ASMR community share.

In continuation of this there seemed to be a strong dichotomy between us and them, suggesting that either you belong amongst the insiders of the ASMR community – and ‘get it’ – or you do not understand the meaning and purpose of ASMR and is thus an outsider. One of the things separating the insiders from the outsiders was whether one is able to obtain the claimed states of relaxation, calmness and sleep.

At the same time the ‘who’ connected naturally to the ‘why’, because the people seeking out ASMR do so in order to not only get cozy and relaxed, but also to participate in and be part of the ASMR community.

How do you think the data from your PhD project will be different from the data from your Master’s project?

My PhD project will be far more embedded and enriched in terms of empirical data, as I will have longer time to research. However, I will most certainly take my initial findings with me and let them be a guideline for what to – and what not to – look at in my future research.

Also, my research question and supplementary questions in my PhD project are a lot different from what I was asking in my Master’s project.

Lastly, I will concentrate on collecting comments from YouTube – and not Reddit (like I did in my Master’s project).

When will you complete your PhD project and will you be sharing the results publicly or publishing them?

My plan is to complete my PhD project in 2021. However, I will be publishing articles continuously from now and until the end of the project, and I will definitely be sharing these. The forthcoming articles will be in English. Up until now I have only written (and published) articles about ASMR in Danish.

Click HERE to learn more about Helle Breth Klausen and her research.

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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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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