I’m happy to share that I am one of the co-authors of the first published study to show brain activity during ASMR.
The study is titled, “An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the ASMR” and was published by Bryson Lochte, Sean Guillory, Craig Richard, and William Kelley in the journal BioImpacts on September 23, 2018.
One of the biggest questions about ASMR is, “What is happening in the brain?” Although this study doesn’t fully answer that question, it is the first data to provide some direct insights.
Participants quietly layed down in fMRI machines, watched ASMR videos, and their brains were scanned during moments of brain tingling – and then those brain images were compared to moments without brain tingling.
The brain regions that were strongly activated during ASMR were similar to those regions activated when humans, and other animals, perform soothing social behaviors – known as affiliative behaviors. Typical examples of affiliative behaviors include calmly sitting close to each other, touching each other gently, and mutual grooming.
So how exactly was this study done?
In 2015, Emma Barratt and Nick Davis published the first peer-reviewed research study about ASMR. Their data were collected from online surveys and were very helpful to provide support about the sensations and potential applications of ASMR.
Now, Stephen Smith, Beverley Fredborg, and Jennifer Kornelsen from the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada have published the second peer-reviewed research study about ASMR.
A key difference between these two publication is that the more recent publication by Smith et al is the first biological publication about ASMR.
In 2012, Bryson Lochte selected ASMR as his research topic for his undergraduate Senior Honors Thesis at Dartmouth College. He chose to investigate the effects of ASMR videos on the brain by using fMRI analysis.
fMRI stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging and reveals changes in the blood flow to specific areas of the brain. His project’s goal was to demonstrate which areas of the brain show increased activity while participants watched ASMR videos.
In February of 2013 Bryson posted a thread on the ASMR subreddit website requesting volunteers for his research project. He completed his thesis by May and submitted the results to the Dartmouth College Library Catalog.
In November, 2013 Bryson posted on the ASMR subreddit site that he would not be able to publicly release a copy of his thesis until his data was published.
Bryson graduated from Dartmouth College in 2013 with his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience. He is currently a medical student at the University of California, San Diego.
In my interview with Bryson he shares an update on his undergraduate thesis data, his inspiration for delving into ASMR research, his current ASMR research project, his insights into the biology of ASMR, advice for those researching ASMR, and more.
Below are my questions in bold, his replies in italics, and links to his website, his LinkedIn page, and his original ASMR subreddit post.
An article about ASMR recently appeared in the NY Times electronic blog section and in the print version on page D6.
It was a well written article authored by a woman with insomnia who accidentally stumbled on ASMR videos while hoping to find soothing videos of rustling papers.
She explains how she did find some lovely crinkling paper ASMR videos. These videos ended up helping her with her insomnia better than several other prior treatment types.
The article provided a good overview of ASMR and mentioned some top artists like Maria of Gentle Whispering and Heather Feather.
She also talks about how many of the scientists she reached out to were reluctant to talk about ASMR.
But not all.