Published research study examines how expectations can affect ASMR

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityDaniella Cash, Laura Heisick, and Megan Papesh from Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, LA have published a research study about expectations and ASMR.

The study is titled aptly, “Expectancy effects in the ASMR” and was published August 22, 2018 in the journal PeerJ.  Links to this paper and a follow up commentary paper are at the end of this article.

I’m often asked why only some individuals experience ASMR.  The answer is that no one knows.  Yet.  The easiest answer could be that the response is dependent on a specific gene sequence – you either have it or you don’t.

But life is never that simple.

It is believed that experiencing ASMR is more likely to occur while being in a relaxing setting, having a calm mind, selecting a preferred trigger type and style, and even perhaps not being on specific drugs or medications which could interfere with ASMR.

What about the influence of life experiences, culture, or expectations?   Particularly expectations.  Expectations could be a part of the magic behind the placebo effect.

Could the placebo effect explain ASMR?  Or what about vice versa?  Maybe ASMR could explain the placebo affect in specific cases?

Visualize a clinician handing you a pill – that is a moment filled with personal attention, caring behaviors, a soft voice, and probably the light touch of their hand on yours, as well as, a reassuring hand on your back as you walk out of their office.

How about meeting with a therapist on a regular basis?  A weekly dose of hyper-focused personal attention from a trained expert with a soft and steady voice – that is an ASMR recipe.  If therapy sessions help you feel calmer, then is it the wisdom, the insights, the ASMR, or all of that which bring you serenity?

In this study, the authors investigated if expectations can affect ASMR – an important question indeed.

*Methods*

The study included:

  • 102 ASMR-consumers who regularly watch ASMR videos and they were recruited from an online ASMR community (31% female, mean age 26 years).  These individuals selected “yes” to the question “Do you watch ASMR videos normally?” Additional survey responses further confirmed they all watched ASMR videos and felt tingles during videos.
  • 107 ASMR-naive individuals who don’t normally watch ASMR videos and were recruited from the local community (78% female, mean age of 19 years).  These individuals selected “no” to the question “Do you watch ASMR videos normally?”  Additional survey responses confirmed they all selected “I do not watch them” in regard to ASMR videos but 36% selected “yes” to the question “Do you feel a tingling sensation when watching ASMR videos?’ in the Supplemental data.  This probably confirms that they don’t normally watch ASMR videos but some participants had watched ASMR videos in the past.  Additionally, 56% selected “I do not experience ASMR” to a question in the Supplemental data, and 44% selected body locations where they feel tingles.  This could mean that 44% of this group do experience ASMR (or something they think is ASMR or tingle-like) and may be experiencing ASMR in real world situations or recalling experiences when they watched ASMR videos.

The two groups were further divided into sub-groups and were read one of the following statements at the start of the experiment:

  • Encouraging instructions (positive expectations):
    • “Over the course of this experiment, you will hear audio from 3 different video presentations. All of the audio files that you are about to hear have been shown to produce the ASMR effect, and we are interested in the causal mechanism causing the response. Please listen to the clips, because you will be asked to rate the degree to which you experienced the tingling, static sensation of the ASMR.”
  • Discouraging instructions (negative expectations):
    • “On the following pages, you will hear 3 different audio clips. None of the clips that you are about to hear have been shown to produce the ASMR effect, and we are interested in determining which audio-visual characteristics prevent ASMR effects from occurring. Please listen to the clips, because you will be asked to rate the degree to which (if at all) you experienced the tingling, static sensation of the ASMR.”

Each of the sub-groups then listened to 5 minute audio files, one from each category:

  • ASMR audio (expected to stimulate ASMR)
    • soft voice role-play, whispering, tapping fingers, page turning, hair dryer
  • Foil audio (not expected to stimulate ASMR)
    • narration, screaming, drumming fingers, piano playing, phone conversation
  • Control audio (expected to stimulate frisson)
    • music

*Results*

After listening to the audio files, the participants rated their ASMR experience and answered additional survey questions.

Mean ASMR ratings for each group and conditions:

ASMR-naive

  • ASMR audio: 3.45 (positive expectations), 2.52 (negative expectations)
  • Foil audio: 3.13 (positive expectations), 1.96 (negative expectations)
  • Music: 3.53 (positive expectations),  2.26 (negative expectations)

ASMR-consumers

  • ASMR audio:  3.50 (positive expectations),  3.38 (negative expectations)
  • Foil audio:  1.68 (positive expectations),  1.40 (negative expectations)
  • Music: 1.66 (positive expectations),  1.27 (negative expectations)

Data for the ASMR rating of the audio files:

ASMR-naive:

  • ~3.2 whispering, narration (highest ASMR rating)
  • ~2.6 to 3.0 personal attention, finger tapping, finger drumming, pages turning, piano playing
  • ~2.2 blow dryer
  • ~1.8 screaming, phone conversation (lowest ASMR rating)
  • Note: Strangely, the music clip varied from ~1.8 to ~3.7.

ASMR-consumers:

  • ~4.7 whispering (highest ASMR rating)
  • ~3.8 personal attention, finger tapping
  • ~2.6 page turning, finger drumming
  • ~2.3 blow dryer
  • ~1.3 to 1.6 music, narration, screaming, piano playing, phone conversation (lowest ASMR ratings)

The following data are from the ASMR-consumer group only.

Items that trigger tingling sensations while viewing ASMR videos.  Select all that apply (percent of ASMR-consumers who selected item):

  • Personal attention, eg face touching (75%)
  • Whispering (65%)
  • Crisp sounds, eg tapping or crinkling (64%)
  • Slow movements (48%)
  • Watching repetitive tasks, eg towel folding (31%)
  • Water pouring (21%)
  • Smiling (10%)
  • Laughing a lot (2%)
  • Vacuuming (1%)
  • Aeroplane noises (0%)

Please indicate where your tingles originate.  Select all that apply.

  • Head (91%)
  • Shoulders (42%)
  • Chest (4%)
  • Back (43%)
  • Arms (11%)
  • Stomach/lower abdomen (7%)
  • Genitals (0%)
  • Hips (3%)
  • Legs (9%)
  • Feet (2%)
  • Note: data from Supplemental Information

What time of day you usually watch ASMR videos?  Select all that apply.

  • Upon waking (1%)
  • Mid-morning (2%)
  • Mid-day (7%)
  • Afternoon (16%)
  • Evening (38%)
  • Before sleeping (82%)
  • Whenever I have time (14%)
  • Note: data from Supplemental Information

Do you require specific conditions (e.g., busy room, bright lighting, etc.) to achieve it? If yes, please describe. If no please write N/A.

  • No (58%)
  • Yes, require specific conditions (42%)
    • Frequently mentioned: quiet space, dark space, comfortable space, calm mind, headphones.
  • Note: data from Supplemental Information

Do any stimuli stop or prevent this tingling sensation from continuing?  If yes, please describe. If no, please write N/A.

  • No (38%)
  • Yes, tingling has been stopped or prevented by stimuli (62%)
    • Frequently mentioned: loud sounds, harsh/sudden/sharp sounds, music, mouth sounds, tapping sounds.
  • Note: data from Supplemental Information

*Summary*

Positive expectations significantly influenced the ASMR-naive group, but not the ASMR-consumer group, to have a stronger ASMR response.  Interestingly, every sub-group showed a higher ASMR rating (not always significant) to all audio types when the audio was preceded by a positive expectation.

The ASMR naive group, but not the ASMR-consumer group, reported stronger ASMR to music than to ASMR audio when given encouragement to experience ASMR.  The ASMR-consumers consistently gave music the lowest ASMR ratings.  This may highlight that people who don’t experience ASMR regularly may be likely to confuse frisson with ASMR.

Whispering had the highest ASMR rating in the ASMR-naive group and the ASMR-consumer group (if you ignore the strange music results).  This may suggest that whispering may be the strongest audio trigger for many ASMR enthusiasts, as well as, the general population.

For the audio files, whispering had a higher ASMR rating than personal attention.  But for the video files, the personal attention video ranked higher than the whispering video.  This may demonstrate how significantly the visual aspects of personal attention contribute to ASMR.  Although this is comparing apples (ASMR rating value) to oranges (a percent selection value).

Additional information was gleaned from the full data set which was included as supplemental information.  For the ASMR-responders, 91% report the tingles originate in their head, 82% watch ASMR videos before sleeping, 44% require specific conditions to experience ASMR, and 62% reported specific stimuli that can stop or prevent ASMR.

Click HERE to read the full research manuscript.

Click HERE to read a commentary article on this research study.

Learn more about ASMR research:

  • Tips: How to be an ASMR researcher.
  • Insight: Interviews with ASMR researchers.
  • Browse: ASMR research and publications.

Learn more about all aspects of ASMR:

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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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