The acronym “ASMR” is the second most popular query in the world on the Youtube video hosting site. If these four letters are not familiar to you, know that it is the abbreviation of the English expression “Autonomous sensory meridian response”, which can be translated as ‘culminating sensory autonomic response’.
ASMR is a complex emotional state, which is not experienced by everyone. It occurs in people who are sensitive to it when they hear, see or feel certain “triggers”: whispers, delicate movements of the hands, light caresses … The resulting sensation is described as a tingling that begins at the top of the head and may extend to the neck and limbs. It appears in the form of waves and generates a state of immersion: the person finds himself “in a trance”, feeling euphoria and relaxation.
Interest in ASMR has exploded since the term was coined ten years ago. It all started with a short whisper video. Posted on YouTube in 2009, it went viral. Eleven years later, the videos of “ASMRtists” (English portmanteau made up of the terms “ASMR” and “artist”), intended to generate this state of relaxing euphoric trance, garner millions of views.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for the research has not been the same as that of the public, and there are only a handful of scientific papers on the subject at present. In order to better understand this complex phenomenon and as the future of ASMR research is emerging, our team has set up a scientific network designed to connect people, ideas and resources.
Here’s what we already know.
Not everyone is able to feel ASMR, but those who experience it report similarities in its effects. In the first place, ASMR usually manifests itself in childhood (the first commonly cited examples are the tingling sensations felt during anti-lice checks at school or during the guessing game “what letter am I writing?” on your back ? “). It is interesting to note that when people find out that ASMR is something “apart”, they often report that when they first felt it, they believed. either that everyone had already had the same experience as them, or that they were the only ones who had ever felt it.
Second observation: although people sensitive to ASMR each have their own preferences, there are remarkable constants in the triggers of this emotional state. The most common are light touches, whispering, soft words, being very close to the individual who shows them personal attention, delicate hand movements and the clarity of certain sounds.
The situations that induce ASMR are often based on a combination of several of these triggers. It could be getting a haircut, or watching someone do a mundane task like folding laundry. Unsurprisingly, the most popular ASMR videos simulate this overlay triggers.
When the brain tingles
ASMR has been the subject of three brain imaging studies. One of them examined in real time the areas activated when the tingling characteristic of this condition occurred. For this, ten sensitive participants were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device and were exposed to videos believed to trigger ASMR.
This work has revealed an increased activation of regions of the brain involved in emotions, empathy and affiliation behaviors (which allow to transmit to the partner a intention of safe social interaction) during times when the tingling was occurring. These results are preliminary and based on a small sample size. They are, however, interesting, because the authors compare ASMR to caring and grooming behaviors: this suggests that ASMR would activate the neurological pathways involved in socio-emotional ties. This idea is somewhat supported by other research, which has highlighted the fact that people who experience ASMR may feel more connected to others.
Two other brain imaging studies took a different approach. They looked at differences in brain activity at rest (when people are just lying in the scanner) in ASMR-sensitive individuals, and in non-sensitive individuals. The authors found that sensitive people have less distinct and more entangled neural networks than the others, suggesting that ASMR could occur due to a reduced ability to suppress emotional responses resulting from sensory stimulation.
This result may seem negative, but it doesn’t have to be. We all integrate information from the outside world (sights, sounds, smells), which gives us emotional experiences. However, how this information and the resulting emotions are integrated varies from person to person.
Being less able to inhibit connections between the outside world and our inner world can mean having more intense positive emotional experiences. Can we have goose bumps hearing our favorite music, or feeling a powerful wonder – or other complex emotions – facing a work of art.
People who are sensitive to ASMR are more likely to have complex multisensory experiences such as musical thrills Where synesthesia (Editor’s note: in people affected by this “union of sensations”, a single stimulus simultaneously solicits several senses: sounds are both perceived as such and “seen” as moving colors, for example). Unfortunately, individuals receptive to ASMR are also more likely to experience misophonia, (literally “hatred of sound”), an aversion to noises produced by others.
In addition to the neurological aspects, the researchers explored other differences between people receptive to ASMR and people not receptive. Overall, research suggests that the former are more likely to have experiences more immersive or more captivating.
They also get a higher score for the personality trait. “Openness to experience”, which reflects imagination, intellectual curiosity and appreciation for art and beauty.
They are finally more empathetic, at least concerning two criteria, namely compassion and concern for others as well as the ability to immerse oneself in their imagination or fiction.
A therapy tool?
A quick glance at the comments of the ASMR videos is enough to convince yourself that this emotional state is a real source of comfort for those who watch these films which are supposed to induce it: they improve their mood, relieve their insomnia and even go so far. reduce the effects of loneliness.
Admittedly, these statements are anecdotal. However we now have preliminary scientific evidence to back them up. Significant reductions in heartbeat For example, people sensitive to ASMR have been recorded while watching videos intended to trigger this state. These changes reflect a reduction in stress levels comparable to those seen during mindfulness meditation or listening to music. However, the question of whether ASMR can be an effective form of therapy (and whether it should be used as such) remains unanswered at this time.
This is an exciting time for ASMR research, as so much is still unknown … Future studies will be needed to determine if everyone has the potential to experience ASMR, if this approach could be a new form. therapy, etc. Hopefully, too, research will one day determine why only certain people seem capable of experiencing this unique phenomenon.