It’s Hard to Explain
We human beings are curious creatures. We claim to know so much about our world and ourselves, while in truth we have only just scraped the surface. We are completely unaware of many aspects of not just the world but of our own body.
Every day, new discoveries are unearthed that were hiding right under our noses. Or in this case in our ears. We’re talking about the newest YouTube trending topic, ASMR.
When I say new, I mean really new. The first mention of a phenomena that could be described as ASMR was in 2007. What’s even more amazing that it was done on the discussion forum of a website called “Steady Health”.
If we want to delve deeper into history, then something like ASMR was also mentioned in the Virginia Woolf novel, Mrs. Dalloway, where a nurse spoke softly yet in a raspy grasshopper like voice to her patient, sending a pleasant tingling sensation up his spine to his brain.
The term ASMR was coined as recently as 2010 on a Facebook page. But all of us have knowingly or unknowingly experienced something like this. We are social creatures that need and thrive on physical touch and sensations.
Grooming behavior among animals is also something that can be associated with ASMR. It is simply the fact that our approach to science is more evidence driven which makes phenomena with hard to capture and explain evidences receiving less favor than more concrete and understood phenomena.
It’s About the Feels
So what is ASMR all about? Let’s break down the term itself. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The term was developed online on the same discussion forums after much deliberation. Each term was chosen for its specific reason and conveys a specific aspect of the phenomena.
Autonomous refers to the fact that the sensation is not under our control and happens spontaneously.
Sensory refers to the fact that it is a sensation that is felt.
Meridian refers to the fact that it involves a peak where in the sensation is much like an orgasm. The word orgasm was frequently suggested while coming up with the term ASMR but was rejected to keep it away from any unnecessary sexual connotations.
And finally response as it occurs in response to an external or internal factor.
Although it was made up, the term ASMR succeeds in capturing the essence of the phenomena it tries to explain.
ASMR is a tingling sensation much like a mild electrical current, felt on the skin that begins from the scalp and spreads down the neck and upper part of spinal cord. This sensation creates a feeling of euphoria and subsequently relaxation in the form of positivity.
It is triggered most commonly by visual or aural stimuli. Most importantly it is a subjective feeling. Everyone experiences it differently. Everyone has their own trigger. A subset of people can even control their responses through attentional control and don’t even depend upon any external stimuli.
Most of the media available online pertaining to this comes in the form of binaural recordings which place the listener in a 3D environment that makes them feel close to the speaker. You do however need a set of stereo headphones. There are also videos, especially Bob Ross painting videos which are much liked by the ASMR community.
If you have been interested in the workings of your mind, you would be able to see some similarity between ASMR and synesthesia. Synesthesia is when a sensory trigger that is supposed to trigger a certain sense triggers a completely unrelated sense. So a synesthetic person can hear or taste colors or smell sound. Something similar happens with ASMR in that a video or audio gives you the sensation of being touched.
It has also been compared to misophonia or hatred of sound. People who experience misophonia report that they get angered or disgusted by certain sounds like whispers or breathing without any reason behind it. Some people who experience both ASMR and misophonia claim that the same sound may make them experience different phenomena depending upon who created those sounds.
But for many of us it may be indistinguishable from the shivers. Not like the unpleasant ones felt when you are cold, but like the ones felt when hearing music. These shivers are called frisson or goosebumps.
The sensation itself draws a lot of comparisons with sexuality. This is furthered by the internet culture surrounding it. Many YouTube presenters or ASMRtists who deal with ASMR try to give it sexual and fetishistic overtones which because of the nature of ASMR, comes very easily. No wonder you will find many attractive female ASMRtists.
Actual science community has taken notice of this and some research has been conducted, including its effect on depression and pain management. Another research established a relationship between ASMR and the regions of the brain involved in empathy and created reactions similar to that from human interaction. Still the research is in a very preliminary state and much ground needs to be covered.
Much of the benefits attributed to ASMR come from anecdotal experiences and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt. Many people claim that ASMR helps them relax much like meditation.
It has also been attributed to mood upliftment and promoting a sense of wellbeing and happiness.
Many of the ASMR videos available online act like guided meditation and therefore come with the benefits of guided mediation like reduced stress and higher concentration.
The biggest benefit that pursues people to watch ASMR videos is however to help with insomnia. However scientist have conflicting theories about this.
Some claim that it may become a thing of habit much like a white noise machine and may lead to further complications when the stimuli is not available.
Another camp disagrees and says that it is more like guided meditation, hypnosis or progressive relaxation and hence can be safely practiced for curing insomnia.
Like any new found field of science, ASMR too has its followers, skeptics, users and abusers. With time more and more research will lead to a better understanding of the phenomena leading to a more informed and educated usage. But for now you are free to explore your mind through this curiosity. Just keep an open mind and buy a good set of headphones.