In­ter­net craze ASMR goes main­stream

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - HEALTH - By Carla K. John­son The As­so­ci­ated Press

A Su­per Bowl com­mer­cial aims to calm fren­zied foot­ball fans with oddly re­lax­ing im­ages of ac­tress Zoe Kravitz whis­per­ing into a pair of mi­cro­phones and softly tap­ping on a bot­tle.

The beer ad al­ready has drawn more than 10 mil­lion views and stands to ex­pose a vast au­di­ence to an in­ter­net craze known as ASMR, or au­tonomous sen­sory merid­ian re­sponse.

Some peo­ple spend hours watch­ing videos of hair brush­ing, paper crin­kling or “happy lit­tle clouds” artist Bob Ross paint­ing be­cause they say it makes their brains tin­gle. They re­port feel­ing a rush from the sub­tle, repet­i­tive sights and sounds, but is it all in their heads?

Not ev­ery­one feels ASMR. And so far, there’s not enough ev­i­dence to rec­om­mend it as a stand-alone treat­ment for de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, in­som­nia or any of the other prob­lems its fans claim it solves.

But a few sci­en­tists are try­ing to study ASMR, and there is ev­i­dence that there might be some­thing to it. And if any harm is done, it’s not fi­nan­cial: It’s usu­ally free.

What is ASMR?

Most peo­ple agree the sound of nails on a chalk­board is freak­ishly un­pleas­ant. ASMR is de­scribed as an op­po­site feel­ing: a tingly eu­phoric re­sponse, usu­ally start­ing on the head and scalp, and some­times spread­ing down the neck, arms or back.

Trig­gers in­clude videos of some­one turn­ing pages in a book, pre­tend­ing to give an eye exam or tap­ping on a col­lec­tion of purses.

Some call it a “brain or­gasm,” though most say it’s not sex­ual.

They say it’s deeply re­lax­ing, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from goose­bumps or chills. The feel­ing helps some peo­ple get to sleep.

Craig Richard, au­thor of

“Brain Tin­gles” and a pro­fes­sor at Shenan­doah Univer­sity in Winch­ester, Vir­ginia, traces the his­tory to 2007 when a post ti­tled “Weird sen­sa­tion feels good” kicked off a con­ver­sa­tion in an in­ter­net health fo­rum.

A Face­book group and Youtube chan­nels fol­lowed. From the start, peo­ple shared their trig­gers: slow or quiet talk­ing, teeth clean­ing and chew­ing sounds.

To­day, mil­lions sub­scribe to con­tent from the most pop­u­lar ASMR artists. Prod­ucts in­clud­ing Dove cho­co­late, Behr paint and IKEA have used it in ad­ver­tis­ing. A hair-cut­ting scene in the 2017 movie “Bat­tle of the Sexes” was de­signed to elicit the re­sponse. A live ASMR spa ex­pe­ri­ence has launched in New York and Cal­i­for­nia.

Is it real?

About a dozen re­search stud­ies have been pub­lished. That’s not a lot in the world of med­i­cal sci­ence.

In Eng­land, Univer­sity of Sh­effield re­searchers found some­thing sur­pris­ing when they hooked up

112 vol­un­teers to elec­trodes to gather bio­phys­i­cal data dur­ing ASMR videos: The tin­glers seemed phys­i­cally ex­cited, but their heart rates slowed.

Half the vol­un­teers were self­i­den­ti­fied ASMR fans. They had greater re­duc­tions in their heart rates — by about 3 beats per minute — com­pared to the non-tin­glers while watch­ing the same videos.

In Canada, Univer­sity of

Win­nipeg re­searchers con­ducted brain scans of 11 peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence ASMR and 11 peo­ple who don’t. The sci­en­tists mea­sured which ar­eas of the brain fired to­gether when par­tic­i­pants were ly­ing in the scan­ner but weren’t watch­ing any videos.

In the brains of ASMR peo­ple, they saw un­ex­pected “teams” of neu­rons fir­ing to­gether, sug­gest­ing that nor­mally dis­tinct net­works were blended to­gether.

That could mean ASMR is sim­i­lar to synes­the­sia, a bet­ter-known con­di­tion where peo­ple de­scribe see­ing mu­sic or num­bers as spe­cific col­ors.

Placebo ef­fect

Louisiana State Univer­sity re­searchers tried to see whether the power of sug­ges­tion af­fected peo­ple’s re­sponses to ASMR au­dio clips. It did, but only for the peo­ple who never be­fore ex­pe­ri­enced ASMR.

The study in­volved 209 vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing fans of ASMR re­cruited from the on­line fo­rum Red­dit. All were told about the ASMR ef­fect and that they would hear three au­dio clips.

Half were told the au­dio clips were known to pro­duce the ef­fect. The oth­ers were told none of the au­dio clips had been shown to elicit ASMR. Some clips were Asmr-trig­ger­ing sounds such as a whis­per­ing and tap­ping. Other clips were fakes: scream­ing and pi­ano scales.

The en­cour­ag­ing in­struc­tions made a huge dif­fer­ence in those who’d never ex­pe­ri­enced ASMR be­fore; they mostly felt tin­gles when they were told to ex­pect tin­gles.

But ASMR fans weren’t fooled by the fakes or the mis­lead­ing in­struc­tions. They re­ported more tin­gles when they heard le­git­i­mate ASMR au­dio, no mat­ter what they were told ahead of time.

“In a way, it doesn’t mat­ter as long as what the user ex­pe­ri­ences is re­lief or stress re­duc­tion,” said Me­gan Papesh, who led the study. “It seems rel­a­tively harm­less and it is free, which is won­der­ful.”

What’s next?

For ASMR to take hold in main­stream sci­ence hinges on whether the craze lasts long enough for re­searchers to find out whether it helps peo­ple with stress or other health prob­lems.

For now, Richard said the best way to think about ASMR is “sup­ple­men­tal in­ti­macy.” It shouldn’t re­place healthy re­la­tion­ships, but it can be used to im­prove mood.

Mich­e­lob Ul­tra

This Mich­e­lob Ul­tra Pure Gold Su­per Bowl ad fea­tures au­tonomous sen­sory merid­ian re­sponse (ASMR).

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