Published research study examines the content and comments of ASMR videos

Alexsandra Kovacevich and David Huron at Ohio State University have published a research paper about the content and comments of ASMR videos.

Their paper is titled, “Two Studies of ASMR: The Relationship between ASMR and Music-Induced Frisson” and was published  in Fall 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal, Empirical Musicology Review.

In this paper, the authors report the results of two studies.  The first study analyzed the content of ASMR videos and the second study analyzed comments about ASMR videos.

Below is a summary of their paper, followed by links to the published manuscript, supplementary materials, and a commentary article.

Study 1 focus: Analysis of content of ASMR videos

*Study 1: Methods*

ASMR videos: The authors selected the 30 most popular, English-language ASMR videos on YouTube based on view count, with a max of three videos by the same artist.  The 30 videos represented 18 different artists and 25 featured a female, 2 featured a male, 1 featured a female and a male, a 2 didn’t display an artist.

Popularity Control videos: 30 videos posted on a similar date and with similar views to the ASMR videos served as controls.  Videos containing music were excluded.

Content Control videos: Videos containing a single person addressing the camera from an indoor setting (“talking head”, “tutorial”) served as controls.  Date and view count were ignored, gender of actors were similar to ASMR videos, and music videos were excluded.

Analysis: Random sections of each video were observed by two individuals and coded (one coded set was later discarded and not used) for aspects related to the following (each observation lasted 60 seconds per video, except Audio aspects which were observed for 5-10 seconds per video):

  • Person: visual aspects and activities of the person.
  • Topical: use of the terms “I”, “you”, “we”, and more.
  • Setting: aspects of the environment and video recording.
  • Audio: aspects of speech, non-speech sounds, and microphone use (some aspects were measured using PRAAT voice analysis software).
  • Informal observations: other trends that were noticed although they were not part of the formal coding.

*Study 1: Results*

ASMR videos vs All control videos:

  • ASMR videos had MORE: oral wetness, audio roaming (movement or panning of sounds), and intimacy.  Informal observations: settings more private, sounds more important, and typically involve role-playing.
  • ASMR videos had LESS: vocal energy, syllable-rate (speaking rate), voicing (amount of speaking to pausing).
  • ASMR videos had SIMILAR: amount of face time, amount of hands time, number of actors, average age of actors, level of lighting, amount of time the actor faces forward, amount of eye contact, formality of attire, amount of smiling, amount of sound pointing, amount of dorsal sound, word complexity, microphone visibility, pitch of voice, variance of the pitch of the voice, number of singular self-references, number of plural self-references, number of references to the observer, tendency to be indoors versus outdoors, or tendency to be in a domestic versus a professional setting.

Additional differences specific to Popularity control videos:

  • ASMR videos had MORE: female actors, face close-ups, proximity (distance between mic and speaker), make-up use.
  • ASMR videos had LESS: music, frame-size (wide-view), loudness of non-speech sounds.

Additional differences specific to Content control videos:

  • ASMR videos had LESS: non-speech sounds.

*Study 1: My thoughts*

I was not surprised by most of the results.  Study 1 showed that ASMR videos have more mouth sounds, stereo sounds, intimacy, close-ups, females, private settings, emphasis on sounds, speaking pauses, and role-playing.  Additionally, ASMR videos demonstrated slower speech, less vocal energy, less music, and quieter sounds.

Some results in Study 1 did surprise me.  I would have expected more hands time, more eye contact, and more references to the observer in ASMR videos compared to control videos.  Some of these non-significant aspects (and others I didn’t mention) may be a reflection of the good control videos selected by the researchers which had these matched aspects, rather than a reflection that these aspects are not common to ASMR videos.  I was also surprised that there were no differences in pitch (analysis done by software) because I would have expected a purposeful pitch shift in ASMR videos to convey more of a caring tone.

Study 2 focus: Analysis of comments about ASMR and ASMR videos

*Study 2: Methods*

Researchers examined the first 100 comments on the top 30 ASMR videos used in Study 1 (see above), and examined the 20 first posts and the 20 “best” posts (as labeled by Reddit users) on the top 30 threads on the ASMR sub-Reddit forum (threads about parodies or forum logistics were excluded).

A total of 3,600 comments were analyzed by two individuals for aspects related to:

  • Physiology: physical responses related to the body
  • Etiology: triggers of ASMR response
  • Psychology: psychological responses related to emotion and cognition
  • Functions: reasons for watching ASMR videos

*Study 2: Results & My thoughts*

Physiology (physical responses): Top 5 comment themes (counted by rater 1/rater 2)

  1. Tingling (163/145)
  2. Localized response (59/61)
  3. Sexual arousal (7/38)
  4. Shivers/chills (11/8)
  5. Goosebumps (8/8)

My thoughts: Tingling is clearly the top response.  Although sexual arousal, shivers, and goosebumps are all in the top 5 themes – the low comment count of these topics compared to tingling suggests that these are rare responses to ASMR videos (each of these responses were observed about 12 times less than a tingling response).

Etiology (triggers): Top 5 comment themes (counted by rater 1/rater 2)

  1. Voice (103/122)
  2. Didn’t work (0/121)
  3. Detracting aspect (0/88)
  4. Physically attractive person (87/0)
  5. Certain spoken sounds (40/23)

My thoughts: Voice was the strongest trigger observed.  Several of the top 5 themes did not have good inter-rater reliability and may be hard to interpret.

Psychology (psychological responses): Top 5 comment themes (counted by rater 1/rater 2)

  1. General positive reaction (456/400)
  2. Love for artist (119/427)
  3. Calm/relaxation (198/248)
  4. Gratitude (121/251)
  5. Sleepy (100/95)

My thoughts: 3 of the top 5 responses reflect appreciation for the artist and their videos, it would be interesting to know how this compares to comments on non-ASMR video channels .  The top two psychological responses associated with ASMR (#3 calmness and #5 sleepiness) are also observed as the top two psychological responses in our data sets and by others.

Functions (reasons): Top 5 comment themes (counted by rater 1/rater 2)

  1. Sleepy (79/118)
  2. Ease anxiety (25/29)
  3. Relax/unwind (14/36)
  4. While doing work (16/15)
  5. Ease pain/sickness (15/15)

My thoughts: Help with sleeping, reducing anxiety, and increasing relaxation are the top 3 comment themes here, as well as, the top reasons for seeking ASMR in our data and in the data reported by others.

*Closing Overview*

Accolades to the researchers.  Categorizing and quantifying content in videos and open comments is not an easy task and is inherently prone to subjective interpretation.  Regardless of those well known limitations, this type of research can help to support current quantitative data or reveal insights that may be missed by quantitative data.

I think these findings are mostly supportive of related data about ASMR and ASMR videos and may reveal some understudied areas of ASMR.  Vocal traits of ASMR artists (and controls) should be studied further to understand which vocal traits are least and most soothing – and the effect on different populations (children, adults, males, females, tired, anxious, depressed, in pain, misophonics, etc).

Interestingly, the title of their paper included “…The relationship between ASMR and music-induced frisson”, but their methods didn’t really seem to focus on examining this relationship (music-based videos were purposely excluded).  Their data did show that the terms, “shivers, chills, or goosebumps” were reported in comments about ASMR videos about 12 times less frequently than the terms “tingling or tingles.”  I believe this supports that frisson (often described as shivers, chills, or goosebumps) is a rare response to an ASMR video.

Surprisingly, the authors suggest in their discussion that ASMR might be a type of frisson.  Frisson is associated with excitement, fear, and increased heart rate, whereas ASMR is associated with comfort, relaxation, and decreased heart rate.  The authors do acknowledge differences between the two responses and also point out some similarities.

Overall, I do agree that ASMR and frisson have some overlapping aspects, so establishing a clear line between ASMR and frisson definitely needs a lot more research.

Access the full research manuscript and related documents:

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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