Published research study demonstrates physiological benefits of ASMR

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityA peer-reviewed research study is the first to report physiological changes while individuals experience ASMR.

The publication is titled, “More than a feeling: ASMR is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology” and is authored by Giulia Lara Poerio, Emma Blakey, and Theresa Veltri from the University of Sheffield (UK) and Thomas Hostler from the Manchester Metropolitan University (UK).  The research was published June 20, 2018 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The publication reported the results of two studies.  The first study involved about 1000 participants watching videos and reporting how they felt.  The second study involved about 100 participants watching videos, reporting how they felt, and having some physiological responses measured.

I will first summarize the methods and results of the first study, then summarize the methods and results of the second study.

Methods of the first study.

The first study included 1002 participants (48% female, mean age 29 years, age range of 18-77) recruited via social media, a specific website, and an email list.  81% of the participants selected “yes” to experiencing ASMR (self-determined).

The participants completed an online survey from remote locations.  The survey  included watching videos and answering questions.

All videos were selected from YouTube.  Each participant watched one randomly selected video from each of the 3 types of videos:

  • Video Type A: Control videos
    • 6 different videos: 3 with speaking, 3 without speaking
    • content was similar to ASMR videos (spoken instructions and demonstrations) but without typical ASMR triggers.
  • Video Type B: ASMR videos with speaking
    • 6 different videos: 3 female voices, 3 male voices
    • content included role-plays, whispering, hand movements, personal attention.
  • Video Type C: ASMR videos with sounds (no speaking)
    • 6 different videos
    • content included origami folding, scratching, slow movements.

The questions in the survey addressed:

  • Feeling tingles during the videos.
  • Pleasant feelings of excitement and calmness.
  • Unpleasant feelings of stress and sadness.
  • Feelings of sexual arousal and connectedness.
  • ASMR trigger preferences and experiences.
  • Aspects of personality, temperaments,  attachment styles, and empathy.

Results of the first study.

Responses to survey questions about ASMR preferences and experiences.  Responses from ASMR group (n=813).

  • Mean age of ASMR onset: 15 years
  • The average participant reported being triggered by about 50% of the triggers from a list of 13 common ASMR triggers.
  • Top 3 ASMR triggers (% that selected trigger)
    • Soft speaking (74%)
    • Hair being played with or brushed (73%)
    • Whispering (70%)
  • Bottom 3 ASMR triggers (% that selected trigger)
    • Observing/listening to someone eating (20%)
    • Lip-smacking (30%)
    • Water/fluid sounds (36%)
  • Watch ASMR videos to trigger ASMR:
    • Daily (1x or more): 35%
    • Weekly (1x – 6x): 35%
    • Monthly (1x-3x): 9%
    • Less than monthly: 2%
    • Ever: 81% (totals of above percents)

Responses to survey questions about personality, temperaments,  attachment styles, and empathy.  Responses from ASMR group (n=813) and Non-ASMR group (n=189)  [these findings are only viewable by accessing the link/document “Supporting Information” on the journal article web page]:

  • ASMR group and non-ASMR group did not differ significantly on:
    • extraversion
    • emotional stability
    • openness to experience
    • approach or avoidance temperament
    • attachment style
    • levels of empathy
  • ASMR group, compared to the non-ASMR group were significantly:
    • less agreeable
    • less conscientious
    • Quote from authors: “Rather than reflecting something about the nature of ASMR, we suspect that these differences reflect the conscientious and agreeable nature of non-ASMR volunteers

Responses to ASMR videos (compared to control videos). Responses from ASMR group (n=813) and Non-ASMR group (n=189)

  • Tingling frequency
    • no changes (non-ASMR group)
    • large increase (ASMR group)
  • Excitement
    • small decrease (non-ASMR group)
    • small increase (ASMR group)
  • Calmness
    • small increase (non-ASMR group)
    • large increase (ASMR group)
  • Stress
    • small decrease (non-ASMR group)
    • large decrease (ASMR group)
  • Sadness
    • small decrease (non-ASMR group)
    • medium decrease (ASMR group)
  • Sexual arousal
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • no change (ASMR group)

Comparison of responses to Spoken vs Sound ASMR videos for those in the ASMR group:

  • Spoken ASMR videos
    • more increased tingles
    • more increased calmness
    • more decreased stress
    • more decreased sadness
    • stimulated connectedness
  • Sound ASMR videos
    • did not stimulate connectedness

Some key points from the first study.  

  • ASMR videos:
    • increase tingles, excitement, and calmness
    • decrease stress and sadness
    • do not affect sexual arousal
  • Spoken ASMR videos
    • stimulate stronger responses than Sound ASMR videos.

Methods of the second study.

The second study included 110 participants (58% female, mean age 26 years, age range of 18-59) recruited via social media, an email list, and word of mouth.  50% of the participants experienced ASMR (self-determined).  The study compared results between an ASMR group (n=55) and a non-ASMR group (n=55).

The participants arrived to a designated location and completed an online survey (which included watching videos) and had physiological responses measured.

Videos in the study were 3 minutes in length and viewed by the ASMR group and the non-ASMR group.  Members in both groups were paired so they watched the same videos (at separate times).  The ASMR group was asked to abstain from watching ASMR videos 3 days prior to the study to increase ASMR sensitivity.  Each participant watched 1 video from each of the following types (3 videos total):

  • Video Type A: Control video
    • 1 control video from study 1
    • Selected because it stimulated the least tingles and most neutral feelings/affect in study 1
    • content was a male chef demonstrating how to make pasta (included eye contact and non-delicate hand movements)
  • Video Type B: standard ASMR video
    • 1 ASMR video from study 1
    • Selected because it stimulated the most tingles and most positive feelings/affect in study 1
    • content was a female ASMR artist folding towels and speaking in soft Russian voice with delicate hand movements.
  • Video Type C: self-selected ASMR video
    • 1 ASMR video selected by each person in the ASMR group
    • participants selected a video that induced their ASMR strongly

Physiological responses were measured while watching the videos and during baseline moments.  Responses included:

  • Heart rate (bpm via 1 finger sensor)
  • Skin conductance (microS via 2 finger sensors)

Survey questioned were answered immediately after watching each of the 3 videos and addressed:

  • Feeling tingles during the videos.
  • Pleasant feelings of excitement and calmness.
  • Unpleasant feelings of stress and sadness.
  • Feelings of sexual arousal and connectedness.
  • Comparison of ASMR during this study vs daily life.

Results of the second study.  

Responses to ASMR videos (compared to control videos).  Responses from ASMR group (n=55) and Non-ASMR group (n=55).

  • Tingling frequency
    • small increase (non-ASMR group)
    • large increase (ASMR group)
  • Excitement
    • small decrease (non-ASMR group)
    • small increase (ASMR group)
  • Calmness
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • medium increase (ASMR group)
  • Stress
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • no change (ASMR group)
  • Sadness
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • no change (ASMR group)
  • Connectedness
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • no change (ASMR group)
  • Sexual arousal
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • no change (ASMR group)
  • Heart rate
    • 2.0 bpm average decrease (non-ASMR group)
    • 3.4 bpm average decrease (ASMR group)
  • Skin conductance
    • no change (non-ASMR group)
    • 0.3 microS increase (ASMR group)

Comparison of responses to Standard vs Self-selected ASMR video for those in the ASMR group:

  • Standard ASMR video (same video for all participants)
    • more increased calmness
    • more decreased heart rate
  • Self-selected ASMR videos (specific video for each participant)
    • more frequency of tingles
    • more increased skin conductance

Some key points from the second study.

  • ASMR videos:
    • increase tingles, excitement, and calmness
    • decrease heart rate
    • do not affect sexual arousal
  • Self-selected ASMR videos
    • stimulate tingles and skin conductance better than standard videos, but not calmness and heart rate.

Thoughts about the entire research paper.

There are a lot of data chunks here to help understand ASMR better.  These results may also be dampened because the ASMR group reported in study 2 that their ASMR was decreased in this study condition compared to daily life.  Therefore, the effects of ASMR out of a study environment may be stronger.

The decreased heart rate in response to ASMR videos is one of the key and novel findings.  This coincides well with the understanding that a feeling of relaxation is often accompanied by a decrease in heart rate.  As the authors highlight, this also provides support that ASMR and music/aesthetic chills are different because heart rates tend to increase during chills.

The authors also highlight how the decrease in heart rate during ASMR is equal to the decreased heart rate observed in clinical trials involving music-based stress reduction for cardiovascular diseases.  Furthermore, the decrease in heart rate during ASMR is greater than the decreased heart rate observed in mindfulness interventions to reduce anxiety.  This supports a potential clinical value for ASMR.

It is also interesting that the non-ASMR group reported increased calmness and decreases stress to ASMR videos in study 1, and had decreased heart rates in response to ASMR videos in study 2.  Although these responses were smaller than those that occurred for the ASMR group, it supports ASMR videos being relaxing to people who don’t experience ASMR.

What about the skin conductance findings?  An increase in skin conductance is usually a marker for excitement, not relaxation.  I think some details in their study may explain this potential discrepancy.  Study 2 showed that the self-selected videos were better at stimulating tingles and increasing skin conductance, but not at decreasing heart rate.

The tingles may be the “euphoric” moments during ASMR that are responsible for the “excitement” affect, but the time that precedes and follows the short moments of tingles may be the “relaxing” moments of ASMR.  So a video that stimulates stronger tingles (self-selected videos) may stimulate stronger excitement/euphoria, and a video that mildly but consistently stimulates tingles (standard videos) may stimulate stronger physiological relaxation.

It would be interesting to see an overlapping timeline of tingles, skin conductance changes, and heart rate changes.  It could be that the heart rate change is a better measurement of the entire relaxation period, but skin conductance is a more specific indicator of the specific moments of tingles.

Overall, kudos to the authors for this terrific mountain of data about ASMR, it is a valuable stepping stone to the understanding and potential application of ASMR.

Click the links below to learn more about this publication:

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.

Want to be alerted of new blog articles, and/or new podcast episodes?  Enter your email into the ***SAVE TIME*** widget (located in the sidebar or footer area).

Scroll down to Print, Share, Reblog, Like, Jump to related posts, or Comment.

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.

2 thoughts on “Published research study demonstrates physiological benefits of ASMR

  1. I’m more curious about physical changes with those, such as myself, who can produce this at will without any external stimulus. How are people doing this at will?

    Like

    • One easy way to produce ASMR at will without external stimulus is to reproduce in your mind some stimulus that you already know that triggers it.

      Like

Comment On This Topic (your email will not be displayed publicly)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.