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. 2019 Jun 21;7:e7122.
doi: 10.7717/peerj.7122. eCollection 2019.

A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

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Free PMC article

A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

Stephen D Smith et al. PeerJ. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Background: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a sensory-emotional experience in which specific stimuli (ASMR "triggers") elicit tingling sensations on the scalp, neck, and shoulders; these sensations are accompanied by a positive affective state. In the current research, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used in order to delineate the neural substrates of these responses.

Methods: A total of 17 individuals with ASMR and 17 age- and sex-matched control participants underwent fMRI scanning while watching six 4-minute videos. Three of the videos were designed to elicit ASMR tingling and three videos were not.

Results: The results demonstrated that ASMR videos have a distinct effect on the neural activity of individuals with ASMR. The contrast of ASMR participants' responses to ASMR videos showed greater activity in the cingulate gyrus as well as in cortical regions related to audition, movement, and vision. This activity was not observed in control participants. The contrast of ASMR and control participants' responses to ASMR-eliciting videos detected greater activity in right cingulate gyrus, right paracentral lobule, and bilateral thalamus in ASMR participants; control participants showed greater activity in the lingula and culmen of the cerebellum.

Conclusions: Together, these results highlight the fact that ASMR videos elicit activity in brain areas related to sensation, emotion, and attention in individuals with ASMR, but not in matched control participants.

Keywords: Anterior cingulate gyrus; Auditory perception; Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR); Emotion; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Sensorimotor.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Activation from the interaction of participant group and video type.
Regions of significant differential activation for the effect of the interaction between participant group (ASMR, control) and video type (ASMR-eliciting, control videos) include bilateral superior parietal, right cerebellum and paracentral lobule, and left cingulate, medial prefrontal, precentral, and inferior frontal gyri and precuneus. (A) Sagittal view. (B) Coronal view. (C) Transverse view. Results displayed at p < 0.05, cluster threshold corrected at 10 voxels. SAG, sagittal; COR, coronal; TRA, transverse; A, anterior; P, posterior; R, right; L, left.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Brain activity detected by the ASMR-eliciting > control video contrasts.
The results in parts (A), (B), and (C) show the responses of ASMR participants while viewing ASMR-eliciting > control videos. The peak intensity coordinates for each significantly increased cluster were located in the right superior frontal gyrus, dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus, and precentral gyrus, and the left cuneus, medial frontal, precentral, and superior temporal gyri. (A) Sagittal view. (B) Coronal view. (C) Transverse view. The results in parts (D), (E), and (F) depict the contrast showing responses of the control participants while viewing ASMR-eliciting > control videos. Control participants showed significantly decreased activity in the right cuneus while watching the ASMR-eliciting videos, as compared to watching the control videos. (D) Sagittal view. (E) Coronal view. (F) Transverse view. Contrasts are displayed at p < 0.01, cluster threshold corrected for multiple comparisons. SAG, sagittal; COR, coronal; TRA, transverse; A, anterior; P, posterior; R, right; L, left.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Beta values for the ASMR-eliciting > control video contrasts.
Beta values for the within-subjects contrasts of ASMR-eliciting videos > control videos for the ASMR group (the left section of the plot) and for the control group (right side of plot). Video type is depicted in red (ASMR-eliciting) and green (control videos), with boxes indicating the interquartile medial range for beta values, whiskers indicating maximum, and minimum beta values (excluding outliers). The median beta value is represented by the horizontal line and the mean value by the diamond within each box. Individual beta values per cluster are represented by black circles. The anatomical label for each cluster is shown along the bottom, for reference with Table 2.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Contrast showing responses of ASMR > control participants while viewing ASMR-related videos.
Activity was increased in the right paracentral lobule, right anterior cingulate cortex, left precuneus, and bilateral thalamus, and decreased in bilateral cerebellum, for ASMR participants while viewing ASMR-related videos, as compared to the control participants watching the same videos. (A) Sagittal view. (B) Coronal view. (C) Transverse view. Contrast is displayed at p < 0.05, cluster threshold corrected for multiple comparisons. SAG, sagittal; COR, coronal; TRA, transverse; A, anterior; P, posterior; R, right; L, left.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Beta values of the contrast between ASMR participants and control participants while watching the ASMR-eliciting videos.
Beta values for the between-subjects contrasts of ASMR participants as compared to control participants while watching the ASMR-eliciting videos. ASMR participants are depicted in red and control participants in green. The boxes indicate the interquartile medial range for beta values, while whiskers indicate maximum and minimum beta values (excluding outliers). The median beta value is represented by the horizontal line and the mean value by the diamond within each box. Individual beta values per cluster are represented by black circles. The anatomical label for each cluster is shown along the bottom, for reference with Table 3.

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Grant support

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada (grant number RGPIN-2014-03928). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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