I got a call from my sister this morning. She was listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” on NPR when they asked a question about a study out of Northern Illinois University. Turns out that study was ours! The question referred to our recent paper on altered states of consciousness in BDSM practitioners. We ran the study at the Arizona Power Exchange in 2013 with financial support from CLAW Corp. and CARAS. Our goal was to look for evidence of the altered states of consciousness that BDSM practitioners refer to as “subspace” and “topspace”. Here’s the summary from the paper:
Researchers studying consensual bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) have theorized that individuals pursue BDSM activities, in part, due to the pleasant altered states of consciousness these activities produce. However, to date, no research has tested whether BDSM activities actually facilitate altered states. To this end, we randomly assigned 14 experienced BDSM practitioners to the bottom role (the person who is bound, receiving stimulation, or following orders) or the top role (the person providing stimulation, orders, or structure) for a BDSM scene. Results suggest that topping was associated with an altered state aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) flow (measured with the Flow State Scale), and bottoming was associated with an altered state aligned with Dietrich’s (2003) transient hypofrontality (measured with a Stroop test) as well as some facets of flow. Additional results suggest that BDSM activities were associated with reductions in psychological stress and negative affect, and increases in sexual arousal.
The segment on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” (which you can hear at 1:47 into “Panel Round Two” on the November 12th episode) described the research as showing that BDSM can make people more creative. This is a bit of a leap from what we found. We found evidence that tops entered into the state of “flow.” As an academic, I don’t usually quote Wikipedia, but I like their definition of flow:
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
So, tops were in a state of flow, and we suspect the flow enhanced their effectiveness as tops. It’s an interesting question whether this also made them more creative, but more research would be needed to figure this out.
For more information:
- Here’s our paper on altered states of consciousness in BDSM practitioners.
- Here’s another paper on altered states of consciousness. This one examines altered states in participants of an extreme ritual called the Dance of Souls.
- Here’s a third paper that compares the physiological and psychological reactions of BDSM practitioners and extreme ritual participants.
#npr #waitwait #bdsm #scienceofbdsm