Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – Author Interview

We recently published “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state”. In this article, authors Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis discuss their research on Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, “a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli”.

First author, Emma Barratt, and second author, Nick Davis, comment on their research and experience publishing with us.

PJ: [Emma] Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

EB: Well, I recently graduated from Swansea University with an MSc in Abnormal and Clinical Psychology, and this article at PeerJ was my first endeavour into publishing. I’ve always tended towards atypical psychological phenomena in terms of my research interests. A lot of my research from undergraduate onwards centred around pseudo-synaesthetic induction, and aiming to apply that in a way that improve memory. When I heard about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), and that people used it to improve their symptoms of depression or chronic illness, I saw a similar relationship between atypical psychological phenomenon and improved outcomes. So after finding out that there was really no peer reviewed research on the subject, I felt very motivated to explore and publish the basic features of ASMR.

PJ: [Nick] Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

ND: I am a Lecturer in Psychology at Swansea. Most of my research is on the use of brain stimulation (mainly tDCS) to study how the brain works. Emma came to talk to me about this weird phenomenon she’d heard about. I had never heard of ASMR before then, but what she described seemed similar to some sensations I have experienced during brain stimulation, or like the feeling of “flow”, so I was intrigued!

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

EB: Sure. Our study provides a really wide look at the features of ASMR, and was written to be accessible to those who have never heard of it before. We identified a number of consistent features from what our participants told us about their experiences. Most involved near universally identified ASMR as being a static-like tingling sensation, typically originating from the back of the head and travelling down the spine and across the shoulders, which was brought about by specific triggers. Many of our participants who suffer from chronic illness or mood disorders are able to successfully use the sensations of ASMR to ease their symptoms, though the vast majority engage in ASMR for relaxation purposes. As for where ASMR fits into our current knowledge of sensation and perception, we suggest some links to synaesthesia (and potentially misophonia), as the automatic sensations in response to triggers appear quite similar in concept.

ND: I was very interested in the idea that people seemed to lose a sense of time during ASMR, which is one of the hallmarks of the flow state. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first described flow, also talks about the benefits to wellbeing of the flow state. Our paper shows some links between ASMR and flow, and we hope that we or others can build on this connection.

ASMR Map. An illustration of the route of ASMR’s tingling sensation. Image shows rear view of the head and upper torso.

ASMR Map. An illustration of the route of ASMR’s tingling sensation. Image shows rear view of the head and upper torso.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

ND: Sadly, this was online questionnaire research so we didn’t meet any of the respondents. Might be fun in future though!

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

ND: I was very surprised by how popular ASMR videos are! I had never heard of ASMR before this, but now I feel like we tapped into a huge community out there!

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

EB: I hope that our research will help to reduce some of the stigma surrounding ASMR. Around the time I was first looking into ASMR, I saw a lot of news articles from those who experience ASMR saying that they felt afraid to talk about their experience. There was more than a minority who were afraid that people will think they’re going crazy, or are watching ASMR media primarily for some sexual kicks. Hopefully having some scientific literature on the subject which shows ASMR to be fairly widely experienced will help enable the public to have a more open conversation about what the phenomenon really is.

ND: I agree. Since the paper appeared, many of my friends have told me they watch ASMR videos to relax, so maybe this work will help to get people talking about it.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

ND: Our study was very exploratory. We had a few ideas about ASMR and we got in touch with some communities that were already familiar with the phenomenon. As an experimental psychologist, my preference would be to test some aspects of ASMR in the lab, where we can expose people to different triggers and see how they respond.

PJ: If you had unlimited resources (money, lab equipment, trained personnel, participants, etc.), what study would you run?

EB: I would have been interested in including some EEG data. Though there’s a lot of value in understanding the experiences people have with ASMR, having some physical exploration of ASMR would have been satisfying.

ND: I think EEG would be great for this! I would like to spend some time working out how to optimise the triggers, so we can have a toolbox for inducing and studying ASMR in the lab.

PJ: Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

EB: We decided to include the comments given to us by reviewers because we feel it’s important that readers see that this article was the product of discussion and debate, as opposed to an interpretation of the data from just one viewpoint.

ND: I agree, the reviewers’ and the editor’s comments were enormously helpful. We are very grateful to them.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

ND: I heard about PeerJ on twitter. I thought the lifetime publication plan model sounded interesting, and I liked how the journal used social media to promote its publications. I really liked the PeerJ Preprints server, and we submitted our manuscript there simultaneously with submitting to PeerJ for peer review. We were very keen for this work on ASMR to be available openly, so an OA journal like PeerJ made sense. In that same spirit of openness, we also uploaded our entire data set with the manuscript, so anyone can look at the data and reanalyse it if they wish.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about your overall experience with us? Anything surprising?

ND: Nothing particular. It all worked really well – submission, review and publication should be frictionless, which was certainly the case here!

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

EB: Extremely simple. Everyone at PeerJ was very professional and helpful –I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to publishing. Thank you for that.

ND: Emma just admitted that this was her first publication! What a great way to get your name in print!

PJ: Did you get any comments from your colleagues about your publication with PeerJ?

ND: Yes, definitely some interest! People have noticed PeerJ on social media, so were curious about the journal.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit? 

ND: Of course! We had a great experience with PeerJ and PeerJ Preprints, so I would certainly submit here again.

PJ: Anything else you would like to talk about?

EB: Yes! The online ASMR community was extremely supportive of this study, which was greatly appreciated. There is a real appetite among those who experience ASMR for further research, and I’m sure that this enthusiasm contribute greatly to exploration of ASMR within the scientific community in the near future.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

ND: Fast, efficient, open!

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