Whilst ASMR was something I was familiar with and particularly interested in when I started this project, I still set out to learn new things about the strange world of this phenomenon during my investigations.
The key thing that I discovered whilst creating this documentary is how niche of an area ASMR is, both in scientific research and in general. ASMR was only actually named as an actual ‘experience’ very recently, within the last decade or so, therefore we are still at a very early stage of understanding exactly what it is. Deeper questions like what causes it, who experiences it and why, and what benefits it could have in different fields are queries that are yet to have been asked. This discovery revealed itself as I conducted my interviews, and I realised no one could talk about ASMR in any factual or statistical context as that just doesn’t exist yet.
My interview with Sophie Hack was intended to show how ASMR has been used in ‘treatment’ for some mental health issues, like insomnia, and I believe the interview achieved that aim. Whilst I was aware that the effects of ASMR had been said to help people sleep, I wanted to see how far this went. Sophie showed me that there are many positives that could emerge for mental health, should the scientific research be carried out, in the way that many people use hypnotherapy and other similar therapies to treat various mental health issues. I also learned about the different varieties of triggers that individuals can experience, as Sophie told me her personal ones, and why those work for that individual, whilst also discovering how common it is that ASMR ‘users’ have their first experience in a classroom, as Sophie did.
Dr Emma Blakey was also a key interviewee, as one of the scientists undertaking one of the first studies into the ASMR phenomenon. Whilst the study was still undergoing peer assessment and being finalised for publication, so she could not talk about the official answers that her research had found, she still had an obvious in depth anecdotal knowledge of ASMR as a result of carrying out the research. Her study, as one of the first, is still a very preliminary look into ASMR, as we first aim to discover what it actually is before we can understand why it happens. Emma made me aware of the varying different kinds of triggers and why these might be applicable to certain people. She even told me about the more peculiar ones that she had heard of, such as someone squashing sweets. However she also told me about the difficulties she found with carrying out her studies. The fact that ASMR evidence is currently entirely anecdotal, it makes it very difficult to carry out an accurate study if you cannot gauge whether the participants in the study are actually experiencing ASMR, or just another similar feeling. You cannot experience what another person is feeling, therefore you are relying entirely on that person saying that they are experiencing ASMR tingles. She told me how important it will be for future scientific study to involve MRI scans to put a finger on exactly what is going on in the brain.
Finally, I spoke to Julie Young, the co-author of the first book about ASMR. Through her research for her book, she had spoken to so many different people that use or experience ASMR, so she had a huge anecdotal data base. She showed me how to explain ASMR in a way that could be understood by those who do not experience it, as she had to do that so often as she wrote her book, for family members and friends. She believes that more people experience ASMR than we realise, they just often try to overlook it or don’t have time to be aware of this as a legitimate effect happening to their bodies. She told me about her first experiences with it, and how common it is that a person first experiences the effect in the classroom at a young age. Between the ages of 5 and 9 is the most common time a person will experience it but, due to this being so young, it is often forgotten by the time a person has reached adulthood and will want to be aware of it. She believes more people need to talk about ASMR, to start the ball rolling on finding out exactly what is going on in the brain, and for more people to experience the benefits that ASMR can bring.
Overall, the primary thing that I discovered about ASMR is that more people need to talk about ASMR. Documentaries like this could be important for the community. We’re very early in the discovery of this new phenomenon, and if it has potential benefits for mental health, then it’s important that the research into what it is and why it happens continues.