Health & Safety – ASMR research

asmrFirst began an fMRI investigation of ASMR as the topic of my thesis at Dartmouth. This was my first investigation into ASMR, and it focused on the different brain activations that accompany different types of ASMR videos.

February 2013: Decided to conduct a second study of ASMR specifically looking at the brain activation when participants reported experiencing the tingling sensation. Since this type of investigation would require specialized participants who could reliably experience ASMR while in the fMRI environment. I decided the best way to recruit these types of participants would be to post adds on ASMR forums. My post on the ASMR subedit recruited the majority of subjects for the study.

May 2013: Finished initial ASMR study and submitted the results as my senior honours thesis titled “Touched through a screen: putative neural correlates of the autonomous sensory meridian response”.

July 2013: Finished second study of ASMR (involving participants recruited through ASMR forums) and completed a first draft of the write up.
Status update: I have been getting a lot of emails from people asking to see the results of my research. Unfortunately, I can’t release any results since doing so could prevent the study from being accepted for publication. The process of writing up the research, editing, and submitting it for publication is taking much longer than I originally expected. I’m currently waiting to receive edits from the other authors of the study (my paper is queued up behind several other awaiting their revision). I will be sure to post any updates here.

Because I recruited subjects using online advertisements there has been some recent discussion of my research in the media specifically: The Atlantic, This American Life, The Verge, The Guardian,

My main research interest is the neurobiology of the reward system, and how we can use it to compliment rather than impede our lives. While the reward system is most often studied in terms of sex, food and drugs of abuse, I was curious how it was influenced by the internet. However, when I was trying to design a study for my senior honours thesis at Dartmouth College, I had a lot of difficulty building a model of internet addiction since different people are attracted to different parts of the internet for different reasons.

Then I remembered a peculiar YouTube video I had stumbled on several years earlier. A woman with perfectly manicured oyster-pink fingernails tapping on a large lightbulb.ASMR research 2

It was a popular video, but it wasn’t appealing the way you typically expect from YouTube videos. Reading the comments, I first discovered the term “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” or “ASMR” which is used to describe a pleasurable tingling sensation emerging from the back of the head in response to these types oddly satisfying videos.

While I myself do not experience the sensation, I was curious, almost envious, of those who did. I was also confused as to why there were no scientific investigations into a topic that was clearly important to so many people. Since these videos produced such a unique and consistent sensory response I decided to use these videos as stimuli in an fMRI study to better understand ASMR.

The neuroimaging lab where I was working primarily studies the brain areas associated with self, reward, and memory – however, it’s also known for its non-traditional studies, like the investigation of reward activation while playing World of Warcraft. I was fortunate that my principal investigator was willing to take a chance on such an unexplored topic, and eventually paired up with graduate student Sean Guillory to conduct the first fMRI investigation of ASMR.

ASMR has been receiving a large amount of media attention lately and I’ve been flooded with emails from people curious about the ASMR research I conducted at Dartmouth. Since it’s difficult to individually respond to everyone who contacts me, I’m starting this blog to provide updates on the progress of the research and answers a few common questions.


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