Binaural recordings are made specifically to be heard through headphones rather than loudspeakers. When listening to sound through loudspeakers, the left and right ear can both hear the sound coming from both speakers. By distinction, when listening to sound through headphones, the sound from the left earpiece is audible only to the left ear, and the sound from the right ear piece is audible only to the right ear. When producing binaural media, the sound source is recorded by two separate microphones, placed at a distance comparable to that between two ears, and they are not mixed, but remain separate on the final medium, whether video or audio.
I’ve always had this triggered by intense personal attention on either me or something I’ve done. In particular, having someone stare intently at something I’ve written or drawn on paper (or imagining/remembering that type of incident) triggers it very consistently. Intensely focused photography of myself or a body part (not sexual) also is very effective. I was recently watching a sporting event and noticing the camera tracking the athletes – just imagining how the athlete would feel with this non-stop camera attention was also a trigger. Dentists don’t really do it for me, but regular checkups with any sort of focused attention on any body part works. There’s something about the very concept of another person finding either me or my ideas/thoughts interesting enough to examine at length. A glance is just not enough. It’s kinda funny but this has triggered like a dozen times just while writing this comment out and thinking about these things!
The explanation behind this physiological reaction lies in the brain. "It's likely that the tingling is due to specific neurochemicals (like oxytocin and endorphins) being released during ASMR—and these neurochemicals are also inducing the deep feeling of relaxation," says Craig Richard, PhD, an ASMR researcher, professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia, and author of Brain Tingles. In a 2018 study published by Richard and his colleagues, they found that ASMR activated similar regions of the brain as those activated during affiliate behaviors, which includes interpersonal bonding (such as parent-infant bonding) along with grooming and care-giving behaviors that involve positive personal attention. These behaviors share similar triggers with ASMR, such as gentle touch, soft voices, focused attention, and a bond of trust.
Four months after Novella's blog post, Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive sciences at the University of Sheffield, was reported to have said that ASMR "might well be a real thing, but it's inherently difficult to research...something like this that you can't see or feel" and "doesn't happen for everyone". Stafford compared the current status of ASMR with development of attitudes toward synesthesia, which he said "for years...was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it".
If you have trouble sleeping or just need to relax, put on your best headphones and enjoy the binaural sounds of these special brushes! This type of sound when used with headphones promotes relaxation/sleep and can trigger ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) in some people which is a pleasurable tingling feeling in the head/neck area. Try it for yourself!
There are two ways that people can experience ASMR. You can experience it through simple meditation or just thinking about a scene or sound that pleases you. Or you can experience it through watching a video or listening to a recording. As for the mechanisms at work behind ASMR, nobody is quite sure why some people react the way that they do. It could be that the videos remind you of your childhood (perhaps, for example, you watched your mom do the same action as a kid, so it’s comforting) or that the simple sounds lull you into a relaxed state. Ready to give ASMR a try? Find some videos on the YouTube channel for GentleWhispering, ASMR University, and ASMRlab.
In the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR, published in Perspectives in Biology in summer 2013, Nitin Ahuja, who was at the time of publication a medical resident at the University of Virginia, invited conjecture on whether the receipt of simulated medical attention might have some tangible therapeutic value for the recipient, comparing the purported positive outcome of clinical role play ASMR videos with the themes of the novel Love in the Ruins by author and physician Walker Percy, published in 1971.