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Car wash - Brain Wash - ASMR
1) What is ASMR?
ASMR is the term for the sensation people get when they watch stimulating videos or take part in other activities — usually ones that involve personal attention. Many people describe the feeling as “tingles” that run through the back of someone’s head and spine. Others say the feeling is deeply relaxing, and can even cause them to fall asleep.
Although the term ASMR may sound very technical, there’s actually no good science or research behind the phenomenon. The term is believed to have been coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who started a Facebook group dedicated to finding out more about it. The term quickly caught on, as people finally had a way to reference the pleasurable feeling they had been experiencing.
2) Wait, what? So how does ASMR work?
How ASMR works varies greatly from person to person. Some — perhaps most — people don’t get it at all. And the science on ASMR is basically nonexistent, so our understanding of it is so far based on anecdotes from around the internet.
People get the feeling of ASMR from various triggers. Some people enjoy role-plays in which someone gives close personal attention and whispers, while others like videos that show incredibly mundane tasks such as spraying a water bottle, tapping, stirring a bowl of soup, or crinkling wrapping paper. Others are triggered by more elaborate role-plays, which can vary from someone acting like a doctor to getting a haircut. (I tend to prefer simpler videos, which I find very soothing and tingle-inducing.)
The feeling isn’t usually sexual. Although some people are triggered by videos that appear sexual, other people I’ve talked to who experience ASMR emphasized that the tingles and feelings of relaxation have nothing to do with sex. But ASMR is a little similar to sexual turn-ons in that some people are very specific in what they like, and many people tend to grow tired of experiencing the same thing over and over.
People also appear to grow tolerant of triggers if they listen or watch them too much. So it’s important for ASMR video makers to keep things fresh, and for viewers to make sure they don’t overplay that one amazingly tingly video.
Steven Novella, a clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, suggested a potential scientific basis for the experience in a 2012 post on NeuroLogica Blog:
Perhaps ASMR is a type of seizure. Seizures can sometime be pleasurable, and can be triggered by these sorts of things. Or, ASMR could just be a way of activating the pleasure response. Vertebrate brains are fundamentally hardwired for pleasure and pain — for positive and negative behavioral feedback. We are rewarded with a pleasurable sensation for doing things and experiencing things that increase our survival probability, and have a negative or painful experience to make us avoid harmful behavior or warn us about potential danger or injury. Over evolutionary time a complex set of reward and aversion feedbacks have developed. Add to this the notion of neurodiversity — the fact that all of our human brains are not clones or copy cats, but vary in every possible way they can vary. We have a range of likes and dislikes, and there are individuals and even subcultures that seem to have a different pattern of pleasure stimulation than what is typical. (Perhaps in some cases this is largely cultural, not neurotypical.) S&M comes to mind. If reports are accurate, there are some people who experience pain as pleasurable and erotic.
Some people are trying to fill the gap in science. Allen and two other researchers from around the country put together an online survey that they hope will give them some answers about why some people get ASMR and others don’t. A 2015 study published in PeerJ looked into ASMR and suggested it can improve mood and even pain symptoms through various common triggers, including whispering, personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. But there really isn’t any great science on ASMR yet.
3) How big is ASMR, really?
It’s fair to say ASMR is now pretty big. There are dozens of videos with more than a million views, and multiple channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The main subreddit dedicated to it, r/ASMR, has more than 130,000 subscribers. The New York Times, Washington Post, and BuzzFeed have covered it. CollegeHumor even satirized it, which is actually a great ASMR video on top of being funny.
4) So why do people watch ASMR videos?
Why do people do anything on the internet, really? Some people watch cat videos. Some people watch politicians yell at each other. Some people watch comedians pose as — and sometimes excel at being — news anchors. And some people watch videos of someone whispering to relax.
Part of this shows perhaps the internet’s greatest strength: its ability to bring people together in a way that was simply impossible before.
Yale’s Novella explained this in his 2012 post on the issue on NeuroLogica Blog:
By the way — this is perhaps another phenomenon worth pointing out, the internet allowing for previously personal and hidden experiences to come to general awareness. Human communication has been increased to the point that people who have what they think are unique personal experiences can find each other, eventually bringing the phenomenon to general awareness, giving it a name and an internet footprint. Of course, such phenomena are not always real — sometimes a real pattern emerges from the internet, sometimes illusory or misidentified patterns, the cultural equivalent of pareidolia.
It’s easy to imagine that millions of people who experienced ASMR and tingles before the internet were simply at a loss as to what was going on or whether they were just weird. They may have tried to keep it a secret after seeing their friends and family react with confusion at attempts to describe the feeling. It’s only with the internet that people could stumble into one another and suddenly realize they’re not alone in experiencing this strange sensation.
5) What’s the future of ASMR?
Since not everyone experiences ASMR, it will likely remain a niche for a subset of people on the internet.
But there are some technological advancements that could greatly advance ASMR. Virtual reality in particular has a lot of ASMR video makers and viewers excited, since it could bring a whole new level of immersion to the experience.