The Physiological Nature of ASMR in Relation to the Pupil

Panayiota Siskos ’23

Figure 1: ASMR is a sensory phenomenon that has been met with an explosion of popularity, and is usually triggered by whispering, crisp sounds, slow movements, or personal attention.

Studies have defined ASMR as static-like tingling sensations felt on the skin associated with relaxation and positive feelings, and often start from the back of the head and expand down the spine, and sometimes to the limbs. However, not everyone experiences this, and there is debate regarding whether it is an actual existing phenomenon or if expectancy manipulates influence. Due to its controversy, researchers have become more interested in studying if ASMR has more physiological effects. Studies indicate the pupil expands due to increased mental effort, emotional stimuli, and sensory phenomena. The main purpose of this study was to further examine the physiological profile of ASMR via eye tracking to measure pupil diameter. The study examined if ASMR and tingling sensations correlated with pupillary changes. The expectation was that participants experiencing ASMR would have a greater average pupil diameter increase from the control video to ASMR video compared to those not experiencing ASMR. In addition to this, it was expected that pupil diameter would be greater during tingling sensations.

         Real-time pupil diameter recordings were gathered during the ASMR and control video from participants who reported either being able to experience ASMR, not being able to experience ASMR, or were unsure about their ability to experience ASMR. Participants reported tingling sensation with a button press to obtain recordings of pupil diameter during tingling sensations.         Participants in the ASMR, non-ASMR, and unsure group displayed a greater pupil diameter during the ASMR video and during tingling sensations. Participants in the ASMR and unsure group had longer tingle durations during the ASMR video compared to the control video, while the non-ASMR did not. Interaction between group type and video type had an impact on the number of tingling sensations, with the ASMR and unsure group having more tingling sensation episodes for the ASMR video in comparison to the control video. This study provided additional evidence that tingling sensations with physiological effects are essential to ASMR and gives more credibility to the idea that ASMR is a real phenomenon that requires more research. Having a better understanding of the physiological aspects of ASMR can reveal its potential as a therapeutic tool in different settings. Further directions for study involve analyzing the different aspects of ASMR in greater detail to better understand its underlying mechanisms. This involves possibly analyzing and observing physiological and emotional responses during and outside tingle sensations to understand the physiological and emotional ASMR profiles and if responses are associated with certain parts of ASMR.

Works Cited:

[1] N. Valtakari, et al., An eye-tracking approach to Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR): The physiology and nature of tingles in relation to the pupil. PLoS ONE 14, (2019). doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226692 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/photos/UUPpu2sYV6E 

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