Saturday, 5 March 2016

ASMR: An Unstudied, Tingly Phenomenon.

Ever found yourself in the situation where you're sitting on YouTube asking yourself, why am I sitting here watching videos of someone running their nails down a hardback book and why am I enjoying it? Or why am I in a virtual Harry Potter room filled with the sounds of wind, fire and book pages turning and why can't I stop favouriting these videos? Yeah, me too. Those tingly feelings that some of you will get where these sounds literally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up whenever you hear the crackling of a fire or pattering of rain is a result of ASMR - Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
Coined by Jennifer Allen in 2010, this is a relatively new phenomenon and one that has had very little research into it, probably because it is not a disruptive phenomenon and therefore no reason for doctors or scientists to worry about in terms of health risk therefore feel no real urgency to investigate, however it doesn't mean this isn't a fascinating peculiarity, and the lack of studies surrounding it are leaving us all wondering what triggers it and why it happens.

Misophonia. Credit
Many have compared it to misophonia - the hatred of sound, mainly very specific sounds such as chewing and stated that it may be on the opposite end of the same spectrum which sounds fairly plausible, but with little evidence on how it works and what it is, it's hard to really place it on a spectrum at all. Nonetheless, it uses the auditory cortex and as it's an emotional response it'll be linked to the limbic system, which ASMR could also be involved with - or not.

One of the very few studies looked at the different kinds of sounds people are attracted to with the majority being triggered by the sound of whispering and thus in some circles are referred to as the "Whisper Community." There is no solid evidence as to why people feel such sensations but the paper by Barratt & Davis (2015) suggests that this may be the result of a minor seizure, which is an interesting hypothesis as essentially all a seizure is, is excessive neuronal activity which in theory makes sense if this activity is happening in the sensory cortex of the brain. Another reason why this may be plausible is that one of the participants in the study were taking Clonazepam - a benzodiazepine which is used to treat seizures - and they had felt that their medication dulled their sensation of ASMR, however one participant out of 300+ is insignificant and therefore not a plausible reason for why this idea could ring true, however it does bring some ideas to the table as to why this is happening.

I've been told the feeling is similar to having one of these things. I can confirm that whilst I do not benefit from ASMR videos, I do benefit from these things! They're the best!
So, are you having little seizures when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you hear a satisfying noise? Maybe. What about this physical similarity to goosebumps? Essentially it's giving you goosebumps which is caused by adrenaline - the fight or flight response, which makes sense as adrenaline is a catecholamine, a group of neurotransmitters which includes dopamine and noradrenaline which are also responsible for pleasure and stress responses respectively, which in this case can be attributed to the pleasure and skin response within ASMR. However we have yet to figure this out and can only speculate at the moment.

Hopefully there will be more research on this because it could have potentially therapeutic effects. Chronic pain sufferers from the Barratt study stated that the pleasant experience worked as a coping mechanism for their pain, which could make sense if the chemical processes involved are implicated in pain response as well as pleasure response. A better understanding can be hugely beneficial within the area of medicine and psychiatry and a few neuroimaging studies wouldn't go amiss.

Despite the little research on ASMR there is a huge community online surrounding it, and it's quite lovely. I personally don't get tingles or shivers, but I do find the Harry Potter and library ones to be fantastic for essay writing and general relaxation. Lately I've found myself having them on repeat in the background underneath my music, it really is a pleasant experience.

What are your experiences with ASMR? Have you ever wandered around that area of YouTube? I can guarantee it being a fun few hours if you're into it, and potentially life changing if you get the tinglies yourself!

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