What is ASMR?
Have you ever heard a sound and automatically felt a mild yet overwhelming sensation all over your body? The sound doesn’t have to be anything in particular. It can range from hearing a whisper to crumpling paper aesthetically. Funnily enough, the trend began on the internet somewhere in the late 2000s when videos of people whispering and describing this vague sensation jumped out. This sparked the conversation about the kind of ‘tingling’ sensation that people felt and since then, much about the field has come to light.
So, what exactly is ASMR? Autonomous Sensory Median Response or ASMR in short, is an emotional state that people feel only when they come across certain triggers. Most people say that they feel right at the back of their heads and it drifts down the body. Eventually, they feel relaxed and calm which is why the trend has blown up into an industry of its own. Now, don’t be fooled. This is not always the case and some people do have extreme negative reactions to such triggers as well which is why the source of the sensation has come under the spotlight.
Yes, it’s tested in the lab
When ASMR became one of the most trending topics on the internet, many people started searching for credible sources explaining it. Much to their dismay, there wasn’t much they could find online. For example, Guilia Poerio, a researcher from the University of Essex, tried to look at it but couldn’t find any article discussing this phenomenon. This is when she took matters into her own hands and designed a study to understand it. Half the participants in her study experienced a state of relaxation but what they didn’t expect was that they would feel emotional arousal as well.
However, many people showed that because of the euphoric feeling that they feel, they’ve linked it to a feeling of sexual arousal. Poerio’s study proves otherwise, as the heartbeat decreased by 3 beats per minute and that is contradictory to what you feel which is why they must not mix the two feelings up.
How does our brain react to ASMR?
We’ve established that the tingling sensation is most definitely a trigger heavy sensation, let’s get into the physiological science of ASMR. There have been few studies that have looked into the way the brain reacts when a person is watching or listening to ASMR content. In a study that was conducted by Craig Richard, a physiologist from Shenandoah University explored the reaction of the brain using an MRI machine. Many of the participants had heightened reactions in the brain areas that were linked to social behaviours, emotional arousal, and process based rewards. This goes to show people who experience ASMR have socioemotional neural networks activated by it.
Yes, there is another factor to consider here, and that is that not everybody can experience this tingling sensation. When imaging studies had looked at the differences between these two groups, people who do not experience it, have more distinct neural networks. It basically correlates with the fact that they can suppress excessive emotional responses and keep their emotional and mental health in check. As they are able to do that, there is currently no evidence indicating that they are more prone to feeling a positive or negative attitude. This is a question that can definitely answer the many nuances of the impact of ASMR.
How do you define this tingling sensation?
Well, we’ve established that the science of ASMR is valid but how is it really defined in the public space? Simply put, there isn’t any cut throat definition out there apart from the term itself. It’s a loosely used term for any trigger point that can give rise to this tingling, and it’s not surprising to find many dedicated social spaces for it. We’re pretty sure that you came across a slew of YouTube videos that were just dedicated to the science of sound. People whispering, tapping things and even just making slime for the sound effects!
Thanks to the internet that actually led to the creation of an entire industry for ASMR, it seems like the definition of the term also grows with the way the people experience it. Many trends have come up in the past few years with slime videos and Mukbang videos also being categorized within the ASMR domain.
Another key aspect that has come to light is that the science of sound was not a heavily researched field. Many studies have shown that it could help people with mental health issues. The flip-side to this issue is that people who experience it are also more likely to experience ‘misophonia’ which in amateur terms means the hatred of sound. This could bring in an onset of problems for such people in the future.
The final take on the science of ASMR
If you were wondering what this phenomenon is, then we hope that you have understood exactly what the sensation is and how it was discovered per se. While we are not sure about the exact scientific basis for the tingling sensation and how it affects our bodies, rest assured, there is ongoing research in the area. Sometimes the internet can be a good thing, huh?
The science of sound is a very niche and under-researched field and with the many trends that are popping off on the internet, it only gives us more data on exactly what goes on inside our heads. While data does suggest that people who experience ASMR are more likely to be empathetic and emotionally active, it could be due to the fact that they are unable to inhibit emotional triggers in their body.
Most of the current research is focused on understanding the neural pathways and components that contribute to the auditory sensation. If you still have questions about whether you experience ASMR, the simplest way to find out is to put on your headphones and switch one of the most riveted videos on YouTube. Love it or hate it, at least you’ll know whether you can experience it!
Keywords: ASMR, science of ASMR, tingling sensation
- Cummins, E. (2021, January 21). Why ASMR calms some people down and sends others into a rage. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/story/science/asmr-misophonia-videos/
- Copeland, L. (2017, March 16). How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/researchers-begin-gently-probe-science-behind-asmr-180962550/
- Kwong, E. (2019, October 17). Some People Get ‘Brain Tingles’ From These Slime Videos. What’s Behind The Feeling?. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/17/770696925/some-people-get-brain-tingles-from-these-slime-videos-what-s-behind-the-feeling
- Mayer, M. (2021, February 2). Testing the Tingles: The Science Behind ASMR. Retrieved from https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/emotions-stress-and-anxiety/2021/testing-the-tingles-the-science-behind-asmr-020221
- Poerio, G. (2020, September 15). ASMR: what we know so far about this unique brain phenomenon – and what we don’t. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/asmr-what-we-know-so-far-about-this-unique-brain-phenomenon-and-what-we-dont-135106