Massage for Your Brain: Talking About ASMR

Gibie is sitting in front of the camera. She holds a jar of vitamins in her hands. You see and hear her tapping her with her fingertips. Barely noticeable sounds from touch merge into a single stream. Putting the jar aside, she whispers that she is going to sort her vitamins, and over the remaining thirty minutes of the video clip, the girl slowly lays out the tablets, one after the other. She does this as if one sudden movement or sound would disturb the harmony of boxes, capsules and tens of thousands of spectators chained to this video.

Photo Anastasia Dulgier / Unsplash

More than a million people watched videos with vitamins in just a month. This audience consists of ASMR enthusiasts who enjoy a range of audiovisual incentives. In total, the girl has more than two million subscribers, and she earns a living by this.

What is ASMR?

An autonomous sensory meridional reaction indicates a pleasant physical sensation caused by a whisper, a quiet crunch, or something similar. Universal for all can not be called it. The ASMR effect is described as a pleasant tingling in the back of the head, which is accompanied by a feeling of relaxation and can cause goosebumps or goose bumps.

If you try to talk more about what causes ASMR, then it can be quiet sounds, most often whisper, quiet speech or noise caused by friction of objects against each other. Unlike soothing sounds of nature, or white noise recordings, ASMR video has a lot of silence.

One Reddit user analyzed popular videos and published the results . Silence on an ASMR video averages 40% of a video. Those sounds that are heard are trying to make clear, but still quiet. To emphasize the stereo effect by amplifying frequencies from 2 to 5 kHz, many record ASMR content using binaural microphones.

The picture itself rarely attracts attention - almost no bright colors are used in ASMR video. Usually rely on soothing visual stimuli. So, if the rustling of the pages is recorded, they will most likely be turned over without haste. If speech is heard in the video, it is important what the person is talking about, what words he chooses and how he pronounces them.

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Elements of role play are often present in ASMR. The authors of the videos directly and with love speak to the viewer, as if to a loved one, playing scenes of confidential contact or intimate moments. The most popular ASMR videos are often categorized as “gastronomic”. In them, people just slowly chew food in front of the microphone.

A brief history of the phenomenon

An ASMR-like effect was described back in 1925 on the pages of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway novel. It makes sense to assume that people experienced something similar and its long before the release of this work. Nevertheless, ASMR has become a recognized phenomenon quite recently. In 2007, the publication “Weird Sensation Feels Good” appeared on the Steady Health forum, in which the author described the tactile sensations caused by a seemingly random course of events. Forum users saw a soul mate and began to discuss similar sensations and effects, and the thread grew to 300 comments. The discussion quickly spread to other forums, and by 2009-2010, ASMR videos had already become mainstream.

One member of that discussion at the Steady Health forum was Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity specialist. She was not happy that this effect was often seen in a sexual context. Despite the fact that there are people who are excited by similar content, initially it did not have any erotic connotation. Therefore, the name ASMR was not chosen by chance - for a more accurate description of this effect, Allen proposed the term "autonomous sensory meridional reaction."

"Autonomy" suggests that the reaction occurs involuntarily. “Sensory” describes the tactile nature of the phenomenon. “Meridionality” is the most controversial term in the name.

He was chosen to avoid comparisons of the phenomenon with sexual sensations. According to the dictionary used by Jennifer, in a certain context, this term could serve as a synonym for the words “peak” and “ecstatic”. As a result, the choice settled on him because the word sounded “more serious” and “more scientific” than other alternatives. Soon after, Jennifer used the abbreviation to create a group on Facebook - it became popular, and the term took root. Since then, Jennifer has been prominent in the ASMR community.

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson / Unsplash

Over the past few years, documentaries have been filmed about ASMR, a number of radio programs have been recorded, and even published many scientific articles. Millions of people are subscribed to ASMR YouTube and ASMR subreddits. And even brands are starting to adopt this effect. An example of this is Ikea, which released a half-hour ad in ASMR style .

What science says

There is no scientific consensus on ASMR. Scientists still do not know what exactly causes such a reaction to incentives, and why some people feel it, while others do not. There is an opinion that the perception of this phenomenon among specialists is similar to the attitude towards migraine. In both cases, the phenomenon is recognized not because the necessary causal relationships were found to prove it, but because a large number of people independently described it in detail. But comparative studies of the brain of people with different reactions to ASMR stimuli are already underway in the hope of revealing the secret of this phenomenon.

So far, we can only talk about some facts that the scientific community has already learned about this phenomenon. Many people compare the process of watching ASMR video with animal grooming. Individuals of some species help each other with hygiene not in order to become cleaner, but in order to develop a trusting relationship. In this context, the act of smoothing hair helps to create a feeling of a safe environment and is subsequently associated in animals with a sense of calm. An fMRI analysis of the brain of people experiencing the ASMR effect showed that during the reaction zones that may be associated with grooming and similar behaviors are activated.

They also note the similarity of ASMR with synesthesia and frisson , a pleasant tremor caused by audiovisual stimuli. ASMR resembles one type of synesthesia that allows subjects to record tactile sensations when listening to certain sounds. Frisson is most often experienced when listening to music. Sometimes the pleasure of listening to music is so great that the hair on your hands “stand on end” and trembling passes through the body. It is also comparable to the sensations that ASMR-sensitive people describe.

Photo Tim Foster / Unsplash

Experts say that the main component of ASMR is the formation of an intimate sound environment. Studies even show that ASMR content helps patients suffering from depression and chronic pain. It slows the heartbeat, and people feel relaxed.

How to listen

In order to feel the ASMR effect, quite good headphones are enough. They should transmit medium frequencies well and create a feeling of spacious stereo space.

Therefore, it is worth paying attention to those models where bass does not dominate, then there should be no problems with the “middle” and “top”. You can use open on-ear headphones to listen to ASMR content, but still it’s worth looking in the direction of closed models (so as not to look for a perfectly quiet room and not disturb others with extraneous sounds).

A lot of people use ASMR content to quickly calm down after work and tune in to rest. Many even fall asleep while watching ASMR video, so you should make sure that the ear cushions of the headphones do not bother you in the process.

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