Are you a tinglehead? The strange world of ASMR
If those sounds and sights give your brain a sparkling, effervescent feeling that relaxes you, then you’re a tinglehead — one of the estimated 20% of people who, according to some experts, experience an autonomic sensory meridian response, or ASMR.
Is it a real or imaginary feeling? There is very little research on the phenomenon, so no one really knows. But legions of fans swear by ASMR, saying the actions in the videos promote a calming meditative state that reduces anxiety and puts them to sleep.
Some people go so far as to call the ASMR tingling — which can spread through the neck and shoulders and throughout the body — “brain gassiness.”
“For me, it’s like my brain is getting fuzzy, and I have this slight tingle,” said Richard, a self-described tinglehead and professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University in Virginia.
Could it feel like goosebumps?
“No, not the goosebumps. You can see and feel the goosebumps on the surface of your skin. It’s a deeper feeling,” Richard explained.
In addition to his own perceptions, Richard’s insight into this unusual phenomenon comes from an ASMR survey he hosts on his website, where tingleheads share what triggers their chills. The majority of those who say they have experienced ASMR are women, say they are artistic or creative, and live all over the world, he said.
“ASMR is a worldwide experience,” said Richard. “From what I see on my website, it’s lived in over 100 different countries, which supports the theory that it’s something biological rather than cultural.”
Billions of tingleheads
Either way, ASMR has taken YouTube by storm. Since the first tingling video hit the internet in 2013, enthusiastic fans have fueled the growth of millions of ASMR clips with soft whispers and soothing repetitive motions.
Behind the tingle
He said the part of the brain that lit up during a bright episode was the reward center. This is where the feel-good hormone oxytocin, also known as the “love or trust hormone”, is produced. It’s the same part of the brain that becomes addicted to drugs, like cocaine and heroin.
“Which might explain why people can watch these tapping and crunching videos for an hour or more at a time,” Richard said.
“People with ASMR score high on the ‘openness to experience’ personality trait. I think they are more receptive to specific types of physical, auditory, and visual experiences than the rest of us. us,” Smith said.
“Alpha waves are associated with meditative types of experiences,” Smith said. “This suggests that what people describe as ASMR is quite similar to a relaxing meditative experience.”
A sense of connection
Richard thinks it’s the calming effect of ASMR that keeps the tingling coming back again and again. People love the deep sense of relaxation they get after an ASMR practitioner speaks in a caring and soothing way, he said.
“It’s very similar to the feeling of sitting on a couch with a loved one that you feel safe with, and when you feel safe with someone, you relax,” Richard said. “It’s also very similar to how we talk to a baby to calm him down: ‘Hey, it’s okay. I’m here for you. You are safe. I care about you.” These are universal behaviors to calm someone down.”
“I find it all very off-putting,” Smith said. “I can’t watch the videos because there’s a voyeuristic quality to it that makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m intruding in some way.”
Those who respond to the videos are drawn to “the positive personal attention,” says Richard. “It’s the person in the camera looking into the lens and acting in that super caring way like they’ve known you all their life and cared about you.”
As therapeutic as ASMR may seem, Smith is quick to point out that any use of ASMR would not replace more than a walk in nature professional counseling for anxiety or stress.
“It’s good for your blood pressure to go for a walk and relax. ASMR is the same,” he said. “If someone wants to use it for therapeutic purposes, it would be more as an adjunct to help them relax, as opposed to their main treatment.”
A primitive beginning?
Why would such attention be so alluring? Richard believes in an evolutionary explanation. He said we can trace the need back to the Stone Age, where the development of trust can come from chimpanzee-like grooming behavior – “removing some parasites, pulling twigs out of your hair , or whatever” – and slow, deliberate actions that somehow benefit us.
“If someone in a cave has been handling something for a long time, he or she was probably cooking food, creating clothes, or making a useful tool,” Richard said.
“It’s an extremely negative reaction, like annoyance or disgust, mostly to specific sounds like chewing, clicking, tapping and whispering,” Richard said, adding that these are also some of the most common triggers. most common for the pleasurable aspects of ASMR.
“There’s a tendency for people who have synesthesia and misophonia to experience ASMR as well, so there’s some overlap here,” Smith said. “It’s just that for some people they experience it as pleasant and for others they experience it as extremely aversive and rude.”
Despite the lack of extensive research on ASMR, Richard believes that people should not overlook the phenomenon or the benefits it provides to those who experience it.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox along with mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, or cognitive behavioral therapy,” Richard said. “That’s another aspect of self-care that helps people deal with stress.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not identify Craig Richard by his correct last name.