ASMR

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Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), sometimes auto sensory meridian response, is a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. A pleasant form of paresthesia, and may overlap with frisson.

Quotes[edit]

  • Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being. The current study identifies several common triggers used to achieve ASMR, including whispering, personal attention, crisp sounds and slow movements. Data obtained also illustrates temporary improvements in symptoms of depression and chronic pain in those who engage in ASMR. A high prevalence of synaesthesia (5.9%) within the sample suggests a possible link between ASMR and synaesthesia, similar to that of misophonia. Links between number of effective triggers and heightened flow state suggest that flow may be necessary to achieve sensations associated with ASMR.
  • Media designed specifically to produce ASMR has amassed a community of thousands of members. Capable individuals utilise a variety of visual and audio stimulation—most typically through video sharing—to achieve a tingling, static-like sensation widely reported to spread across the skull and down the back of the neck (Taylor, 2014). The advent of online video communities has facilitated a gathering of those who experience ASMR, and as a result hundreds of videos have been produced, viewed and shared with the goal of inducing this sensation, which is said to be paired with a feeling of intense relaxation. A dedicated ASMR subgroup on Reddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/asmr/) boasts 86,000 subscribers from around the world, and some of the most popular ASMR content creators on video sharing site Youtube (http://youtube.com/), for example GentleWhispering have upwards of 300,000 subscribers. Table 1 lists a number of these popular sources on Youtube. These figures show that the culture surrounding ASMR is in no way insignificant. Several reputable international media outlets have reported on the attention this phenomenon is receiving, and the lack of scientific explanation. (Marsden, 2012; Tomchak, 2014).
  • Many reported that even in the absence of tingling sensations, they felt that their mood and symptoms of pain had been improved. It is possible that devoting specific time to engaging in ASMR, watching relaxed scenes play out and sitting quietly could be considered a form of mindfulness (Langer, 1989). Those who engage in ASMR take time to focus on positive emotions triggered by these stimuli, focusing exclusively on this the task at hand. This behaviour is very reminiscent of mindfulness practices, which have already been shown by several studies to have positive effect on both conditions (Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth & Burney, 1985; Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2012). This categorisation of ASMR as an exercise in mindfulness meditation perhaps best explains the improvements in mood observed in both depressed and non-depressed participants in this study.
  • Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a perceptual condition in which the presentation of particular audio-visual stimuli triggers intense, pleasurable tingling sensations in the head and neck regions, which may spread to the periphery of the body. These triggering stimuli are often socially intimate in nature, and usually involve repetition of movements and/or sounds (e.g., hearing whispering, watching someone brush her hair). Reports of ASMR experiences first appeared in online communities in 2010; since this time, these communities have expanded, with some groups consisting of over 100,000 members. However, despite the apparent prevalence of ASMR, there is currently no research on the personality characteristics that co-occur with this condition. In the current study, 290 individuals with ASMR and 290 matched controls completed the Big Five Personality Inventory (BFI; John et al., 1991); participants with ASMR also completed a questionnaire related to their ASMR phenomenology. Individuals with ASMR demonstrated significantly higher scores on Openness-to-Experience and Neuroticism, and significantly lower levels of Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness compared to matched controls. Further, ratings of subjective ASMR intensity in response to 14 common ASMR stimuli were positively correlated with the Openness-to-Experience and Neuroticism dimensions of the BFI. These results provide preliminary evidence that ASMR is associated with specific personality traits and suggest avenues for further investigation.
  • ASMR was recently brought to the attention of the public in 2010 (del Campo and Kehle, 2016). At this time, numerous online forums included discussions of a previously-unnamed feeling termed Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, an unscientific name coined by Jennifer Allen. Over the next few years, descriptions of ASMR proliferated in the media, with some journalists referring to the tingling phenomenology as “brain orgasms” (e.g., Beck, 2013). To date, little research has been published on the phenomenon; indeed, only five peer-reviewed papers have been published on ASMR (e.g., Ahuja, 2013; Andersen, 2015; Barratt and Davis, 2015; del Campo and Kehle, 2016; Smith et al., 2016), only two of which included empirical data Barratt and Davis, 2015; Smith et al., 2016). Due to a dearth of experimental research on the subject, our understanding of the formal descriptive parameters of ASMR is highly limited. A recent survey study by Barratt and Davis (2015) was the first to find that whispering, close-up attention, and slow movements such as hair-brushing elicited tingles in over half of the 450 individuals with ASMR that they studied. The authors also found that other common ASMR triggers include listening to and watching an individual tap on various objects, watching an individual open a package, and watching an individual complete an intricate task, such as drawing, painting their fingernails, or applying make-up.
    There are several factors that distinguish ASMR from other atypical sensory experiences, such as frisson—the pleasurable tingling sensations that occur during an emotional response to music (often referred to as “chills”; del Campo and Kehle, 2016). The two phenomena are similar in that they both tend to occur while one is mindful and fully engaged with the triggering stimulus, they both involve an affective component, and both experiences are associated with large individual differences in triggering stimuli (Nusbaum et al., 2014; del Campo and Kehle, 2016). However, the two phenomena differ in that the tingles associated with frisson tend to spread rapidly throughout the body, whereas ASMR-associated tingles may last upwards of several minutes (del Campo and Kehle, 2016). Further, unlike frisson, ASMR experiences are often described as “wave-like” and “dynamic,” as the intensity of the tingles tends to morph throughout the triggering experience and may spread from the head and neck regions to the periphery of the body (Barratt and Davis, 2015; del Campo and Kehle, 2016). Finally, and perhaps most importantly for those who experience both ASMR and frisson, the tingling sensations associated with ASMR are often associated with relaxation and contentment (Barratt and Davis, 2015), whereas frisson experiences may be due to an exciting or emotionally arousing experience (del Campo and Kehle, 2016).
  • Although the Big Five Inventory developed by John et al. (1991) excels in its brevity and efficiency, it lacks in its ability to measure more nuanced sub-facets of personality (McCrae and John, 1992). For example, it is possible that the highly significant differences seen between ASMR participants and controls on the Neuroticism domain of the BFI may instead be due to significant differences in the self-consciousness sub-facet of Neuroticism rather than negative affect, which is the primary characteristic of this domain. Further, the differences seen on the Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness domains may be better explained by results obtained from a personality questionnaire that employs a faceted framework (e.g., Costa and McCrae, 1992). However, despite its limitations, the BFI is an excellent first step in identifying how the “Big Five” personality characteristics relate to ASMR, and provides a stepping-stone for additional research on this condition.
  • ASMR is the third most popular search term on youtube worldwide. But in case you haven’t heard of it, it stands for autonomous sensory meridian response.
    ASMR is a complex emotional state that only some people experience when they hear, see, and feel certain “triggers,” such as whispering, delicate hand movements, and light touch. The feeling is described as a tingling sensation beginning at the crown of the head which can spread down the neck and limbs. The tingling sensation comes in waves and is a “trance-like” immersive state accompanied by feelings of euphoria and relaxation.
  • There have been three brain imaging studies on ASMR. One looked at the areas activated when the reported tingles are happening in real-time. The study looked at ten participants who experienced ASMR and had them watch ASMR videos in an fMRI machine.
    The study showed that periods of ASMR tingling were associated with increased activation in brain regions involved in emotion, empathy, and affiliative behaviours. These results are preliminary and based on a small sample size, but the authors liken ASMR to caring and grooming behaviours – suggesting that ASMR activates neurological pathways involved in socioemotional bonding. This idea is somewhat supported by research showing that ASMR can make those experiencing it feel more connected to other people.
    Two other brain imaging studies have taken a different approach by examining differences in resting-state brain activity (when people are simply lying in a scanner) with people who do and don’t have ASMR. They found that people with ASMR have less distinct and more blended neural networks, suggesting that ASMR could happen because of a reduced ability to suppress emotional responses that we derive from our senses.
  • Dr Giulia Poerio, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology, said: "Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood and awareness of the sensation has risen dramatically over the past decade due to internet sites such as YouTube and Reddit.
    "However, ASMR has gone virtually unnoticed in scientific research which is why we wanted to examine whether watching ASMR videos reliably produces feelings of relaxation and accompanying changes in the body -- such as decreased heart rate."
    Researchers from the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology investigated whether ASMR is a reliable and physiologically-rooted experience with the potential to benefit the physical and mental health of those who experience it.
    In one experiment, they studied the physiological changes that occurred when participants watched two different ASMR videos and one control (non-ASMR) video in a laboratory setting. Half of those who took part in the study were recruited because they identified as experiencing ASMR, with the other half were recruited as age and gender matched controls who did not experience ASMR.
    The study found that those who experience ASMR showed significantly greater reductions in their heart rates when watching ASMR videos (an average decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) compared to those who do not. They also showed significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.
  • Dr Poerio said: "Our studies show that ASMR videos do indeed have the relaxing effect anecdotally reported by experiencers -- but only in people who experience the feeling. This was reflected in ASMR participants' self-reported feelings and objective reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants. What's interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness. "

“More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology” (2018)[edit]

Giulia Lara Poerio, Emma Blakey, Thomas J. Hostler, Theresa Veltri, “More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology”, PLoS One. 2018; 13(6): e0196645. Published online 2018 Jun 20.

  • Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) describes the experience of tingling sensations in the crown of the head, in response to a range of audio-visual triggers such as whispering, tapping, and hand movements. Public interest in ASMR has risen dramatically and ASMR experiencers watch ASMR videos to promote relaxation and sleep. Unlike ostensibly similar emotional experiences such as “aesthetic chills” from music and awe-inspiring scenarios, the psychological basis of ASMR has not yet been established. We present two studies (one large-scale online experiment; one laboratory study) that test the emotional and physiological correlates of the ASMR response. Both studies showed that watching ASMR videos increased pleasant affect only in people who experienced ASMR. Study 2 showed that ASMR was associated with reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance levels. Findings indicate that ASMR is a reliable and physiologically-rooted experience that may have therapeutic benefits for mental and physical health.
  • ASMR occurs involuntarily in response to certain external (and often social) triggers, including: whispering, soft-speaking, tapping, scratching, slow and expert hand movements and close personal attention. Many people report experiencing ASMR since childhood but typically assume that ASMR is either a universal experience or one unique to them. Over the past decade, the internet and social media have allowed ASMR experiencers to label the sensation, recognize that it is neither universal nor unique, and to watch ASMR videos that simulate and accentuate common triggers. Hundreds and thousands of people are now ardent viewers of ASMR videos (creations by so-called “ASMRtists”) on websites such as YouTube. Popular videos include: simulations of medical examinations, haircuts and massages, towel folding tutorials, and customer service role plays. Anecdotally, viewers use these videos to trigger ASMR, to promote relaxation and sleep, and even as an antidote to depression and anxiety.
    ASMR appears to share similarities with more well-established sensory experiences including the “shivers-down-the-spine” that some (but not all) people experience during music-listening and profound aesthetic experiences (such as those associated with the emotion of awe). Research on aesthetic chills has assessed the physiological parameters that correspond with these complex emotional experiences, typically by presenting participants with chill-inducing stimuli (e.g., self-selected musical excerpts) and measuring aspects of physiology. A number of studies have consistently associated aesthetic chills with increased heart rate, a finding that may be specifically linked with the onset of piloerection associated with chills. Less consistently, aesthetic chills have been associated with increased respiration rate, respiratory depth, and increased skin conductance response. Taken together, the above evidence shows that phenomenologically complex and idiosyncratic emotional experiences can be identified by various physiological parameters, which in turn, have implications for how these emotional states might affect physiological health (see for example, the salubrious effects of music therapy).
  • Despite the potential parallels between ASMR and aesthetic chills, one point of departure between the two experiences is that ASMR is typically considered to be relaxing and soothing (it is often used as a sleep aid), whereas chills are associated with excitement and physiological arousal. Whether ASMR is associated with a pattern of physiology indicative of relaxation is something that we address in the present research. To date, research into ASMR has been scarce, and no research has examined the physiological parameters or self-reported emotions that underlie this unique psychological state. The little research that has been published on ASMR has provided useful survey data on the use of ASMR videos (for relaxation, sleep, and stress), the age of first ASMR experience (5–10 years), and common triggers (whispering, personal attention, crisps sounds, and slow movements). More recently, neuroimaging research has revealed trait-level differences in resting-state brain activity between people who experience ASMR and those that do not. Specifically, ASMR experiencers (N = 11) show reduced functional connectivity (the coactivation of brain regions over time) in a number of areas of the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is large-scale neural network (comprising the angular gyri, posterior cingulate, and medial prefrontal cortices) that has been linked with internal mentation and self-referential processing. Smith et al. found that ASMR participants (compared to controls) had reduced resting-state functional connectivity between frontal, sensory, and attentional regions of the DMN, a finding which suggests that ASMR may be underlined by an inability to inhibit sensory-emotional experiences. Interestingly, other research shows that increased DMN activation (as opposed to functional connectivity)–specifically in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex—is associated with observing highly moving and emotional artwork [26]. Such increased activation may represent the production of a strong and complex emotional response (aesthetic experience) from external stimuli (artwork). This association between sensory stimuli and intense emotional responding may be stronger in individuals with ASMR in response to certain triggers (e.g., whispering, tapping, hand movements).
  • Although we expected ASMR videos to be predominately associated with self-reports and physiological indices of relaxation (reduced heart rate and skin conductance level), we found evidence that ASMR is also an arousing (but not sexual) experience. ASMR videos were associated with increased excitement and skin conductance levels (an indicator of physiological arousal). The fact that seemingly opposing (i.e., activating and deactivating) self-reported emotions and physiology occurred simultaneously in response to ASMR videos may be indicative of the emotional complexity of ASMR. Complex emotional experiences often involve a blending of emotional components traditionally viewed as opposites. For example, nostalgic experiences involve happiness tinged with sadness and aesthetic chills can elicit both euphoria and sadness. Our physiological profile of ASMR is consistent with previous research on the physiology of mixed emotions more generally and suggests that ASMR is a complex emotional blend comprising of activating and deactivating positive affect. ASMR may offer an opportunity to better understand individual differences in the ability to experience emotional complexity, and the potential positive effects of mixed emotional experiences on health and well-being. We should also note that although the reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance level experienced by ASMR participants might seem intuitively contradictory, this response is physiologically possible. Despite the long-held view that heart rate and skin conductance level represent a unitary measure of autonomic arousal (meaning they are often used interchangeably), emerging research demonstrates that cardiac and electrodermal measures are often separable, research which favors the view that autonomic arousal is not a unitary construct. Indeed, recent work indicates that responses in different somatic systems (e.g., heart, skin) are likely to reflect different underlying patterns of neural interactions.

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