The increase in skin conductance “went against our initial predictions,” says Dr. Giulia Poerio, a research associate at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the paper. She says the seemingly contradictory combination of heart rate drop and increased biological excitement “could reflect the emotional complexity of ASMR.” Paradoxical emotional experiences are not unheard of — take nostalgia, the paper notes, which can conjure up feelings of happiness and sadness simultaneously.
This image from video provided by Michelob shows a frame from their 2019 Super Bowl commercial for Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. The ad features the actress Zoe Kravitz using techniques for autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It is described as a tingly euphoric response, usually starting on the head and scalp, and sometimes spreading down the neck, arms or back. (Michelob ULTRA via AP)
Nothing can currently be definitively known about any evolutionary origins for ASMR since the perceptual phenomenon itself has yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlations. Even so, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has led to the conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.
Why does this exist? Because some people experience ASMR, aka autonomous sensory meridian response, a condition that means certain sounds cause you to experience a pleasant, tingly feeling on your scalp, or around the top of your spine. Sounds weird, has in fact been around for a while – by late 2016, approximately 5.2 million ASMR videos had been uploaded to YouTube.
Well. I started getting ASMR or Empathic Enlightenment as I called it, since the late 70’s. At a family gathering in ’79, I spoke with an old hippie Artist, a Painter, a friend of my mothers, who told me it was “Enlightenment”. Empathy for a moment shared he said. He too, was inflicted with the ability, and spoke in a hushed tone about it, Bob Dylans “Hurricane” played in the background, as he told me about the metaphysical and artistic side of life. I never forgot that night, and “Hurricane” is still my favourite song.
Since then, I've been watching a vast array of long and otherwise incredibly boring videos specifically designed to produce the ASMR response. Most people I've mentioned it to have no similar response at all, and can't imagine why I'd sit and bliss out to an 18-minute video of a Russian girl folding towels, or a Greek girl waving her hands in my face, or somebody tapping their fingernails on a wooden box.
Did you ever ask your siblings or friends to draw letters on your back or draw on your arms as a child? Absolutely love story time at school? Like having your hair played with? REALLY enjoy haircuts, eye tests, having your feet measured? Love drifting off to the sound of other school pupils putting their pencils away? Listening to someone in a waiting room flipping the pages of a magazine? Did any of these things make you feel what you thought were shivers down your back or a sparkly feeling in your head? Did they make you feel quite dreamy and sleepy? If so then you are ASMR sensitive.
And just last month, Richard and colleagues published data that shows results of fMRI brain imaging scans for 10 individuals (who all previously reported experiencing ASMR) as they watched an ASMR video and reported feeling the sensation. The parts of the brain active when we’re socially engaged with others, when we feel empathy, and when our brain’s reward centers are on, appeared to be active when people said they experienced ASMR.
In a series of Instagram direct messages, the woman who runs the self-described "ASMR-PICA" account @tasteetastetastik told Motherboard that although she does not believe that she has pica, she got into the community after several months of using Instagram for voyeurism and making foam-focused ASMR videos. “Well I didn’t start eating it [chalk] until I was faced with stress,” she said. “Had some reoccuring family issues and it kind of propelled from there.”
Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those like the sound of rain, fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crushing of eggshells, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, or writing. Many YouTube videos that are intended to trigger ASMR responses capture a single person performing these actions and the sounds that result.