Undergraduate student shares completed dissertation on ASMR, aesthetics, sensory perception, and sensory phenomena

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityAndrew Smith is an undergraduate student at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at The University of Dundee, Scotland.

He focused his final year dissertation project on ASMR to fulfill the requirements for his Bachelor of Design degree (with Honors).

Andrew’s completed dissertation was 47 pages (~10,000 words), was titled, “An investigation into the interconnected nature of aesthetics, sensory perception and sensory phenomena” and weaved together the following topics:

  • ASMR
  • The Golden Rectangle (a shape linked to art, design, and architecture)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (a therapy for trauma patients)
  • Brain Wave States, Hypnosis, & REM, Sleep
  • Brain Default Mode Network & Synaesthesia
  • Interpersonal bonding
  • Senses, Sensory Processing Disorder, & Autism

In my interview with Andrew he explains the main hypothesis of his dissertation, the methods he used, interesting perspectives of ASMR he uncovered, his challenges with writing his dissertation, and tips for others writing a dissertation about ASMR.

Below are my questions in bold, his replies in italics, a link to his completed dissertation, and links to connect with Andrew.

What inspired you to do your dissertation on ASMR?

My life has taught me that most often, everything is connected, whether that be physically, emotionally or spiritually. ASMR remained a very large part of my life throughout my studies and still is today.  Although ASMR is something that I have always experienced (I referred to it as “the fuzzies” in my head when growing up), I always assumed that everyone experienced it but just didn’t talk about it.

ASMR as a phenomenon is something that has always been present in our lives, but went virtually unnoticed, or masqueraded as a form of Frisson for example until there was a platform in which to discuss it, mainly, the internet.

I am highly intrigued by phenomenology and phenomena such as The Golden Rectangle. After some research it became apparent to me that therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) and the viewing mechanisms of The Golden Rectangle are intrinsically linked to phenomena such as ASMR.

With evidence of so much interconnected aspects of therapy, aesthetics and sense perception, it seemed very obvious to me that a deeper understanding of ASMR as a whole, and as a piece of a much bigger pie, could lead to advances in offering support and relief to people living with various sensory processing difficulties.

What was the main hypothesis of your dissertation?

My main hypothesis is that a better understanding of sensory phenomena such as ASMR, and how they connect to other phenomena, may provide the ability to offer support to individuals living with sensory processing difficulties such as is often present in people with Autism for example.

The viewing mechanisms of aesthetic phenomena such as The Golden Rectangle, which has long been known as a tool to aid aesthetics in design and create visual harmony, uses what is known as bilateral stimulation and is intrinsically linked to phenomena such as ASMR, which also utilises bilateral stimulation to create a form of aesthetic harmony.

Bilateral stimulation is also a very important factor in EMDR. I suggest that the positive therapeutic elements associated to bilateral stimulation during EMDR is potentially a result of ASMR, further suggesting the potential applications of ASMR as a tool for therapy.

What methods did you use to write your dissertation?

My dissertation began by writing a literature review titled “The Golden Rectangle as a design myth and the interconnected nature of maths, art, music and nature”. In this I researched The Golden Rectangle as a phenomenon and how it had gained the reputation that it has.

By doing this I discovered that The Golden Rectangle is both a social, psychological and biological phenomenon. One of the reasons we perceive The Golden Rectangle to be most appealing is that it facilitates the flow of information to our brain in the fastest and therefore easiest way. The idea that a phenomenon is grounded within us biologically, suggested to me that other phenomena may also have a biological function.

From this I began by researching what little scientific research has been conducted into ASMR, through publications of research experiments. An example of this being “An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)” (Smith et al). As ASMR is still a relatively new phenomenon, what little information is available is quite condensed, making it rather easy to find.

I began by reading everything I could about ASMR, including “the idiots guide: ASMR” by Julie Young and Ilse Blansert and this proved invaluable. This book reinforced a lot of connections that I had felt were present within the ASMR phenomenon, and this helped give me some confidence in what I was writing. As as artist and designer it is my job to find connections and bring disparate themes together.

What do you think is the single most important perspective in your dissertation related to ASMR?

I believe that the single most important perspective is the fact that we cannot look at ASMR with one perspective. It needs to be considered as part of our sensory processing capabilities and debated alongside other conditions.

I believe that by understanding how conditions like ASMR, Synaesthesia and Misophonia function and are connected on a sensory level, that we can open up new routes of research or practical applications to better understand and treat those people who suffer from sensory processing difficulties, whether that be as a result of a specific condition or as a symptom of another condition.

What other interesting things about ASMR did you learn about or uncover?

I think that the shear growth of ASMR is fascinating and what it represents socially and anthropologically is also worthy of further study. For example a YouTube search for ‘asmr’ in 2015 returned 1.5 million results, compared to 11.1 million in February 2018.

This shows the scale of ASMR as a digital phenomenon, highlighting the importance of a digital platform to how we live our daily lives and the evolution of our aesthetic requirements as socially functioning beings.

What were your biggest challenges to writing and completing your dissertation?

Word count was the biggest challenge. As ASMR is such an interconnected phenomenon it became more and more apparent how many phenomena, such as synaesthesia, can be linked to ASMR. My first draft had twice the word count it should have and so editing became an issue for me. The connections between ASMR and other phenomenon are so vast, it became very difficult to choose the most relevant factors to make my point and stay within the word count.

Confidence in what I was doing was also an issue. My tutor advised me that the subject matter was ‘pushing it’ in terms of a design focused course. I genuinely believe though that artists and designers have a pivotal role to play in the development of support mechanisms for people living with various difficulties.

For example, pictures are often used in place of words to help people dealing with Autism. Graphic Designers are very aware of ‘design for accessibility’ which aims to support making design features more accessible and understandable to people living with various difficulties i.e hearing impairment, dyslexia, autistic spectrum etc.

I completed a module at university called “Art, Science and Visual Thinking” and this really highlighted the scope and need for artists, designers and scientists/researchers to work together. All of these factors to me, reinforced that ASMR as a phenomena needs to be better understood in a more multi-disciplinary way, inclusive of all industries so that we may work together and find better ways of supporting people.

With very few people to talk with about the subject matter, it became quite difficult to keep my confidence up, especially with such limited research available. I think in these times it is important to have faith in your gut instinct and go with it. Once you have decided on something you feel that strongly about, I think it is best to keep going forward, make the most out of it and give it your all.

What advice would you give to others writing a dissertation about ASMR?

My advice would be to structure your research. I used a colour coding system in order to clearly define which factor of my research related to other factors, for example certain aspects of synaesthesia can be related to methods for aiding people with dyslexia. With so many connections, it is important to keep track of what you have covered.

I would also advise to enjoy it. ASMR by its very nature is positive, relaxing and therapeutic, although at times stressful due to the pressure of work, writing it was positive, relaxing and therapeutic. I think that if you are passionate about something you should give it a go.

As an art student the subject matter of my dissertation is slightly off topic (due to the lack of knowledge surrounding it) but I genuinely feel that every industry, especially the creative industries, can prove invaluable in providing support to those who need it. I truly feel we need to understand ASMR better in order for people to know what else we could do with it.

Oh…. and manage your references, it’s a nightmare if you forget where you read something!

Andrew’s completed dissertation:

  • Read Andrew’s dissertation HERE

Links to connect with Andrew:

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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