The Questionable Science Behind the Internet Phenomenon ASMR: Tony Ro

For a story on the neuroscience behind the Internet phenomenon ASMR, Smithsonian.com consulted Presidential Professor Tony Ro (GC/Psychology and Biology), an expert on sensory processing and synesthesia.

ASMR, a nonclinical term short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, was coined in 2010 to describe an emerging Internet trend. YouTube viewers reported experiencing pleasurable sensations — a mix of tingling at the scalp, euphoria, and relaxation — while watching videos of people engaged in methodical activities, such as folding napkins, typing, whispering, or tapping brushes.

According to Smithsonian.com, psychologists are probing the trend to see if there is a scientific basis for it. Ro notes that one study conducted at the University of Winnipeg “is unfortunately not as revealing or informative as it could have been,” due to its small size and the fact that participants were tested while resting in fMRI scanners rather than while experiencing ASMR. Still, he explains, “I do think that ASMR may be a form of synesthesia.”

Ro adds that he thinks “we should remain skeptical about ASMR until we are able to measure its automaticity, consistency, reliability, and underlying neural mechanisms much more carefully.”

Ro is a former director of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Program at the GC. His research explores the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying attention, perception, and action. He has published his findings published widely in journals such as Annals of Neurology, Neuropsychologia, and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Submitted on: MAR 22, 2017

Category: Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience | Faculty Activities | General GC News