Shawn Watkins’ paper on the ASMR community

[The following document is being shared with the permission of the author, Shawn Watkins.  The document includes the main article, references, and annotated bibliography.  Shawn is sharing it to help others whom are researching ASMR or just trying to better understand ASMR.  If you would like to thank Shawn for sharing his paper and references, or you would like to communicate with him further then you can contact him via swatkins@angelo.edu]

Shawn Watkins

Comm 6302

16 February 2015

Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory

 

Literature Review: The ASMR Community

 

While medical and scientific studies on autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) are few, an online community has developed and become indexed, primarily, through the internet mediums YouTube and Reddit (Taylor 9 October 2013). The pursuit for evidence from neurobiologists, medical practitioners, psychologists and the ASMR community itself is ongoing and current. A YouTube search for ASMR yields about “1.5 million” results, writes Higham (2014). To piece together a foundation for the cultural phenomenon, data from interviews, academia, news resources and the ASMR community, although not prolific, can be analyzed.

Although the majority of the ASMR community receives content online, a parasocial relationship, Shelly Taylor (2013) describes the “brain massage or…head orgasm” one may feel when given close clinical attention during an optometrist, hospital visit or when getting a haircut. The body of ASMR video content includes lengthy role-play sessions where the actor or actress uses a soft voice, whispering into a microphone. Other content includes simple tactile stimuli like crinkling bags, tapping on glass or rubbing different textures together. As the community has developed over the past five years, higher quality microphones recording on two separate audio channels (stereo) seem to deliver a more consistent and noticeable stimuli (Ahuja 2013, p. 443). The parasocial relationship seems to be enhanced through advancement in technology or the use of higher quality equipment.

The phenomenological sensation of ASMR is described by community members as “a reliable low-grade euphoria in response to specific interpersonal triggers, accompanied by a distinct sensation of tingling in the head and spine” (Ahuja 2013, p. 443). Nitin Ahuja (2013), as a “third year resident in internal medicine” (p. 443) has investigated the use of brain imaging by social neurobiologists “by defining the affective pathways accessed by various forms of physical contact” (p. 445). More appropriate in application to the ASMR community are the psychological studies on phantom-limbs; how physical touch can seem to be felt by amputee patients. The physical disconnectedness of amputee patients is relative to the experience of the ASMR community viewing the video content they are drawn to.

It is noted in plenty of source material that data is inadequate and or studies are currently underway. As of January 2015, a quantitative ASMR survey from Richard et al. (2015) is still underway and collection of data persists through a website. Gleaning data from the questionnaire would help in the pursuit of additional quantitative studies. The survey begins with basic demographic and personality questions after asking an initial age of consent questions, supposedly to avoid institutional review board paperwork for those under 18. The following section includes questions in regard to mental disorders, cigarettes use, alcohol consumption, medication use, vitamin use and illicit substance use. The survey was created through surveymonkey.com and includes selectable choices as well as boxes to type out answers for a few questions. Due to the body of quantitative data, or lack of it, investigating the ASMR community through the Bormann’s (1982) symbolic convergence theory (SCT) may be useful and appropriate. Bormann’s (1982) definition of communication, “the human social process by which human beings create, raise, and sustain consciousness,” (p. 50) and claim that culture is developed and reified through materials and technology are useful to a quantitative study on the ASMR community.

Novella (2012) writes, using terminology common among the ASMR community, that through technology, human communication brings together a community with phenomenological experiences. The community develops patterns, “sometimes illusory or misidentified…the cultural equivalent of pareidolia” (Novella 2012). The body of video content on YouTube consists of vague terminology that sounds scientific or psychological, writes Higham (2014); it is not clear who actually coined the term and some neuroscientists like Frances McGlone remain skeptical toward such remedies. By developing a quantitative study using SCT as a framework, the patterns, use of language and cultural descriptions can be identified and analyzed.

Symbolic convergence occurs through the sharing of fantasies, often illusive, through communication (Bormann 1982, p. 51). Reality is produces through the reification of narratives, rhetorical devices and dynamic definitions (Bormann 1982, p. 51). Fantasy themes are created through social convergence and recurring fantasy types become more apparent within the culture (Bormann 1982, p. 52). Bormann uses the terms rhetorical vision and rhetorical community to describe the scripts and terminologies used within the culture and the tendencies of the agents within the community (p. 53). Last to the framework is an overarching and cumulative narrative for the successes and events in the culture; this can be based on individual account or group accounts (Bormann 1982, p. 53). For developing a questionnaire for ASMR research, Bormann’s (1982) analysis of communication malfunction will be valuable in inquiring about the community’s want for scientific research and reification of rhetorical artifacts.

In order to quantify data, other studies have used Q methodology or a Q-sort utility for analyzing large-scale campaign studies and polls (Bormann 1982, p. 58). Q methodology may prove useful in the actual structure of a questionnaire. Stephen (1985) suggests Q-methodology could be helpful in research on cultural phenomena by “constructing objective maps of subjective experiences” (p. 193).

 

References

Ahuja, N. K. (2013). It feels good to be measured: Clinical role-play, Walker Percy, and the tingles. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 56(3), 442-451. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2013. 0022

Bormann, E. G. (1982). The symbolic convergence theory of communication: applications and implications for teachers and consultants. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 10(1), 50.

Higham, N. (2014, December 10). ASMR: The videos which claim to make their viewers tingle. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30412358

Novella, S. (2012, March 12). ASMR. Neurologicablog: Your daily fix of neuroscience, skepticism, and critical thinking. Retrieved from http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/asmr/   

Richard, C. A., Allen, J. L., & Burnett, K. A. (2015). ASMR university: The art & science of autonomous sensory meridian response. Retrieved from asmruniversity.com

Stephen, T. D. (1985). Q-Methodology in communication science: An introduction. Communication Quarterly, 33(3), 193-208. Retrieved from ebscohost.com

Taylor, S. (2013, October 9). Head orgasms, meditation and near-death experiences. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013 /oct/09/head-orgasms-meditation-near-death-experiences

 

Annotated Bibliographies

Ahuja, N. K. (2013). It feels good to be measured: Clinical role-play, Walker Percy, and the tingles. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 56(3), 442-451. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2013.0022

Ahuja (2013) writes, giving ASMR a description that is phenomenological and medical.  His medical background provides a valuable perspective given the lack of scientific research on the phenomenon. While dissociative disorders are seen to derive from acute trauma, ASMR may be reactive to such a disorder—invoked through a persisting dissociative bond (Ahuja 2013, p. 448). This article provides an ample description of ASMR and gives a medical and psychological diagnosis for the phenomenon. Many scholars seem lost as to how the culture has developed and accumulated content.

Bormann, E. G. (1982). The symbolic convergence theory of communication: applications and implications for teachers and consultants. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 10(1), 50.

Using symbolic convergence theory (SCT), given by Bormann (1982) could help to further explain the phenomenological qualities in a quantitative analysis aside from the more scientific research on ASMR. SCT describes the building of an illusory community that comes together and persists through cumulative rhetorical themes and language. The structure of the theory seems to flow from traditional psychoanalytic diagnosis given by Freud. Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari are not mentioned. Also important to SCT is how conflict may develop within a rhetorical community through competing definitions of fantasy themes and rhetorical terms.

Higham, N. (2014, December 10). ASMR: The videos which claim to make their viewers tingle. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30412358

A YouTube search for ASMR yields about “1.5 million” results, writes Higham (2014).   This is a BBC article written through Higham’s (2014) personal experience with ASMR  or what ASMR feels like; describing the phenomenon as a sensation felt when given  personal attention. Many ASMR videos provide lengthy role play sessions that are often but not always medical: an optometrist appointment, retinal scans, haircuts or Buddhist ceremonies. After Higham’s finding on video activity and the number of subscribers or comments follow the most popular ASMR members, 42 readers give their experience on what ASMR is and how it is triggered.

Novella, S. (2012, March 12). ASMR. Neurologicablog: Your daily fix of neuroscience, skepticism, and critical thinking. Retrieved from http://theness.com/neurologicablog /index.php/asmr/   

Novella (2012) focuses on the diversity of ASMR triggers while also trying to uncover a unifying definition of the phenomenon. It seems that the definitions of ASMR leave urgency for medical, psychological and neuroscientific research. Given that this is a neuroscience blog, Novella (2012) dives into what little research there is on ASMR and produces commentary on what is lacking. The findings produced suggest that, because of our diversity in biological development, ASMR is more of a cultural phenomenon that can be better described and analyzed using other methods. Although, scientific research  seems to be what the community wants most.

Richard, C. A., Allen, J. L., & Burnett, K. A. (2015). ASMR university: The art & science of autonomous sensory meridian response. Retrieved from asmruniversity.com

ASMR university is a website that is focused on neuroscientific and psychological research on the subject. A web survey, developed through the survey monkey service, is provided for anyone over the age of 18 to take part in. The website seems to be updated frequently and provides links to those who are interested in the subject. Descriptions of ASMR are divided by an artistic perspective and a scientific perspective. After enough data has been accumulated from the online survey, the three researchers will post findings directly through the website.

Taylor, S. (2013, October 9). Head orgasms, meditation and near-death experiences. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013 /oct/09/head-orgasms-meditation-near-death-experiences

While medical and scientific studies on autonomous sensory meridian response ASMR are few, an online community has developed and become indexed, primarily, through the internet mediums YouTube and Reddit (Taylor 9 October 2013). The pursuit for evidence from neurobiologists, medical practitioners, psychologists and the ASMR community itself is ongoing and current. Shelly Taylor (2013) provides personal experience with the ASMR sensation and describes the “brain massage or…head orgasm” one may feel when given close clinical attention during an optometrist, hospital visit or when getting a haircut. The body of ASMR video content includes lengthy role-play sessions where the actor or actress uses a soft voice, whispering into a microphone. Other content includes simple tactile stimuli like crinkling bags, tapping on glass or rubbing different textures together. Of further interest is a thesis project from neuroscientist Bryson Lochte that makes use of brain scanning techniques while individuals view ASMR videos.

 

2 thoughts on “Shawn Watkins’ paper on the ASMR community

  1. 67 year old white atheist male. Have experienced ASMR since childhood and never thought much about it. In 2013 I learned of the ASMR community on a public radio broadcast and sought more info online. Have been using ASMR as a means of relaxation ever since.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Graduate student writes a theory paper about the ASMR community | ASMR University

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