Autonomous sensory meridian response, better known as ASMR, is an experience in which specific stimuli elicit a unique response. In some cases, the response is purely physical, though feelings of relaxation and relief may also occur. While ASMR has only recently become a topic of discussion and study, it is extremely popular as a relaxation aid and self-treatment for a variety of conditions.
People who experience ASMR often describe the sensations as a type of euphoria consisting of both positive, relaxing feelings and a distinct physical sensation. Members of the ASMR community often refer to this sensation as a "tingle." The feeling travels down the head, into the neck, shoulders, arms, spine, and legs. Some individuals describe it as a mild electrical current or many popping bubbles. Medically, the tingle is a type of paresthesia, a description that encompasses various skin sensations.
ASMR usually occurs just after a stimulus, known as a trigger. These triggers are almost always auditory or visual, though certain tactile sensations may also apply. While ASMR trigger effectiveness varies between individuals, a few specific stimuli affect most people. Some of the most common triggers include
Only a portion of the population experiences ASMR, though the exact numbers are uncertain. ASMR studies are often small in scale and cannot be reliably extrapolated to the entire population. In terms of demographics, participants of ASMR studies are largely young adults. However, this is likely due to ASMR’s relatively recent discovery and general reliance on online media. Some participants claim their parents also experienced ASMR, indicating that age may not be a limiting factor.
Because many people do not experience ASMR, the topic is extremely difficult to research. Viewers of ASMR content claim it has therapeutic effects, and there are many anecdotal reports of ASMR helping with insomnia, depression, anxiety, pain, and panic attacks. As research continues, it is unclear if these benefits stem from the physical sensation itself, the relaxation aspect, or some other underlying factor.
Some experts believe that it is necessary to separate personal attention from other stimuli when studying ASMR. One study found that whispering and personal attention triggered ASMR in more participants than any other stimuli. Some experts suggest triggers like whispering are effective because they are reminiscent of a close relationship, such as a parent and child. The simulation of a relationship, regardless of type, may play a role in relaxation or combating issues like depression and anxiety.
Musical frisson is a tingling sensation that occurs in response to music. Many people also experience piloerection or goosebumps when feeling frisson. Experts have attempted to determine a link between these two phenomena because of their similarity. However, people who experience both describe them as unique sensations. Medical imaging of brain region activity indicates that frisson and ASMR may have similar methods of activation.
ASMR is similar to several other phenomena that involve reactions to auditory or visual stimuli. Synesthesia is a unique condition where a person experiences one sensory experience in response to another, such as seeing a certain color when hearing a specific sound. ASMR may be a form of synesthesia, where a person feels tactile feedback in response to stimuli. Some individuals have drawn links between ASMR and misophonia, which manifests as extremely negative emotional reactions to certain sounds. Links also exist between synesthesia and misophonia.
One study used fMRI scans and discovered significant changes in the default mode network of people who experience ASMR versus a control group who do not. Experts suggest that ASMR reflects a lower ability to inhibit certain sensory and emotional experiences. ASMR may also result from a unique type of thalamic connectivity in the brain.
Studies of brain activity indicate that certain sections of the brain become more active when experiencing ASMR. The brain regions that are most active during tingling are similar to those that are active during musical frisson and social bonding. According to a 2019 study, ASMR videos tend to produce activity in regions relating to emotion, attention, and sensation.
Psychologists and other experts have suggested adding ASMR into treatment plans for conditions like insomnia, depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. This is due to the lack of downsides and overwhelming anecdotal evidence of effectiveness. Many individuals have turned to ASMR for additional treatment or to replace prescribed treatments that are ineffective or lacking. In one study, participants found that even without a tingling sensation, ASMR improved their mood and relieved various symptoms.
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