Results from the ASMR Synthetic Trigger research project

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityLast month I reported about a research project looking for participants to view and respond to animations of synthetic ASMR triggers.

The project is now complete and Marcus Nystrand, an undergraduate student at Beckmans College of Design in Sweden, has shared the results publicly.

Some of the results surprised us both.

For his project, Marcus created computer-generated animations that have some properties of ASMR triggers (e.g., movements, sounds) but without the presence of human forms (e.g., hands) or human objects (e.g., hair brushes).

Participants viewed 10 videos and then rated each synthetic trigger for tingle ability, tingle strength, tingle pleasantness, and relaxation ability.  The survey opened on April 23, 2018 and closed on May 14, 2018 with 560 finished submissions.

I was deeply impressed by the quality of the animations, the concept of his project, and the effort he put into the entire project.  I think he came up with a unique way to assess ASMR triggers which is helpful to understanding ASMR better.

Below are the specific survey questions, screenshots from each video, my summary of the data, an interview with Marcus about his results, and links to a video about the results, graphs of the data, a link to all the videos, and a link to learn more about Marcus.

Each video included the following questions (with appropriate skip-logic):

Did this object give you tingles? 

  • Yes
  • No 
  • Don’t Know

In terms of strength, how would you rate the tingles?

  • Extremely weak
  • Very weak
  • Weak
  • Moderate
  • Strong
  • Very strong
  • Extremely strong

In terms of pleasantness, how would you rate the tingles?

  • Extremely unpleasant
  • Very unpleasant
  • Slightly unpleasant
  • Neither unpleasant nor pleasant
  • Slightly pleasant
  • Very pleasant
  • Extremely pleasant

In terms of relaxation, how would you rate your overall experience of this object?

  • Extremely unrelaxing
  • Very unrelaxing
  • Slightly unrelaxing
  • Neither unrelaxing or relaxing
  • Slightly relaxing
  • Very relaxing
  • Extremely relaxing

My summary and ranking of the results:

I used the data graphs created by Marcus (link at the end of the article) to create my own summary of the data.

Explanation of my ranking, summary percents, and my overall interpretations:

  • Felt tingles = percent of those who selected “Yes.”  I used this percent to rank all the videos from #1 to #10.  This method to rank the videos is different than the method used by Marcus – so we have some differences in our rankings, but there are also some similarities.
    • Range:  52% – 26% (of all participants)
    • Interpretation: Tingles not usually felt but synthetic triggers can induce tingles.  Without controls it is unknown if synthetic triggers are more likely or less likely to induce tingles compared to non-synthetic triggers.
  • Strong tingles = I added the percents for “strong”, “very strong”, and “extremely strong.”
    • Range: 30% – 15% (of those who felt tingles)
    • Interpretation: Tingles that were felt were not usually strong.
  • Pleasant tingles = I added the percents for “slightly pleasant”, “very pleasant”, and “extremely pleasant.”
    • Range: 86% – 62% (of those who felt tingles)
    • Interpretation: Tingles that were felt were usually pleasant.
  • Felt relaxed = I added the percents for “slightly relaxing”, “very relaxing”, and “extremely relaxing”.
    • Range: 34% – 72% (of all participants)
    • Interpretation: Videos had a wide range for inducing relaxation but synthetic triggers can induce relaxation and most of them induced relaxation in about 50% of the participants.  Without controls it is unknown if synthetic triggers are more likely or less likely to induce relaxation compared to non-synthetic triggers.

My summary for each video:

#1 – Scribble Squares

  • Felt tingles: ~52% (highest)
    • Strong tingles: ~22%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~86% (tie – highest)
  • Felt relaxed: ~72% (highest)

#2 (tie) – Roller Clay

  • Felt tingles: ~42%
    • Strong tingles: ~30% (tie-highest)
    • Pleasant tingles: ~78%
  • Felt relaxed: ~54%

#3 (tie) – Bean Bag

  • Felt tingles: ~42%
    • Strong tingles: ~20%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~72%
  • Felt relaxed: ~50%

#4 – Painted Cube

  • Felt tingles: ~40%
    • Strong tingles: ~25%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~80%
  • Felt relaxed: ~55%

#5 – Squeezed Blob

  • Felt tingles: ~38%
    • Strong tingles: ~25%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~70%
  • Felt relaxed: ~42%

#6 – Riffle Sheets

  • Felt tingles: ~36%
    • Strong tingles: ~30% (tie – highest)
    • Pleasant tingles: ~86% (tie – highest)
  • Felt relaxed: ~55%

#7 – Soft Brush

  • Felt tingles: ~36%
    • Strong tingles: ~28%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~78%
  • Felt relaxed: ~48%

#8 (tie) – Crumbly net

  • Felt tingles: ~32%
    • Strong tingles: ~15% (lowest)
    • Pleasant tingles: ~67%
  • Felt relaxed: ~34% (tie – lowest)

#9 (tie) – Scratch Board

  • Felt tingles: ~32%
    • Strong tingles: ~22%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~62% (lowest)
  • Felt relaxed: ~34% (tie – lowest)

#10 – Wavy Strands

  • Felt tingles: ~26% (lowest)
    • Strong tingles: ~25%
    • Pleasant tingles: ~75%
  • Felt relaxed: ~54%

Interview with Marcus (questions in bold, replies in italics):

What will viewers see if they view your final results video? 

The viewers will see each object on a stage in a virtual 3D-room, rendered in additional camera angles. I thought the stages would be a fun way to communicate that these virtual objects are also, in a way, ASMR-artists.

Were you happy with the response rate in your project?

Yes, absolutely! The ASMR community has been very positive and helpful and I appreciate that a lot.

How would you summarize your general findings?

The surveyed objects are all capable of eliciting tingles, although some are significantly more efficient at it. Some objects did more often elicit unpleasant chills and some did more often elicit pleasant tingles. Direct human presence doesn’t seem to be the absolute core in triggering ASMR.

However, I’m thinking there could be an indirect human presence in my material. For example, in survey winner Scribble Squares, one could very well imagine a human hand holding the pen. The scenario is probably familiar to most of us and our brains might want to complete the picture by subconsciously putting a human there.

Another explanation could be that we subconsciously mirror the actions on ourselves. For example, in many of the objects there is one thing that scratches or squeezes another thing. Maybe our mirror neurons make us react as if the actions were performed on ourselves.

I am absolutely no scientist but these are just thoughts that this project has led me into.

Did you see any general or specific patterns in your results?

I think I would need to survey a larger number of objects to be able to see any clear patterns. The three most popular objects are very different and I can’t really tell what they have in common.

How was your graduation exhibition?

It was great! I got the chance to see live reactions on the summary video and also talk to people about what they thought about each object. I had some really interesting and long discussions that helped me evolve my thoughts and theories on ASMR.

One thing that I really want to know more about is how kids and adults react to the same trigger. Several times during the exhibition I saw parents react opposite to what their kids did. It could very well just be a coincidence but I surely would like to explore it.

Any plans to publish your results in a journal?

Yes, I would very much want to do that. I’m not sure my project has the required quality and I don’t know how I would proceed to do that. But I will at least contact a few journals and see what they think about it.

What advice would you give to others creating an ASMR survey project?

Make sure you collect as much metadata as possible. For example, time spent on each question/object and participant age and gender could all be valuable information when analyzing the data. I didn’t manage to include this in my project but now, afterwards, I really would have wanted that data.

Links to results, videos, and more about Marcus:

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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