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Intentional Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: What is it and How Can it Help with Anxiety?

Have you ever wondered why particular sights, sounds and tactile sensations feel so satisfying or relaxing? Or how impossibly mundane activities like the light sound of a computer keyboard typing, pages turning or hair brushing can sometimes induce tingles on your head or “the shivers”?

It is likely that what you are experiencing is ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response to these stimuli. ASMR is an experience distinguished by a static-like, tingly sensation on the skin that normally begins on the top of the head and works its way down the neck and spine.

ASMR has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia. Conceptually, ASMR isn’t new, but the term itself was established relatively recently. On 25 February 2010, Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity professional coined the phrase during the introduction to a Facebook Group she founded entitled the ASMR Group.

I was curious as to how the name for the experience came about. Here’s how it’s broken down per its origins:

  • Autonomous – spontaneous, self-governing, within or without control
  • Sensory – concerning the senses or sensation
  • Meridian – signifying a peak, climax or point of highest development
  • Response – referring to an experience triggered (by something external or internal)

While “meridian” refers to climax, this experience is not intended to be interpreted as a sexual one. Listening to quiet, repetitive sounds like tapping or from the actions resulting from someone engaging in an everyday task such as typing on a computer or flipping through a book can be ASMR “triggers” or stimuli.  However, “triggers” or ASMR inducers aren’t limited to strictly sounds. Stimuli that can trigger ASMR, per those who say they’ve experienced it, include the following:

  • Initiating the stimulus through responsive manipulation (without using audio or visual media)
  • Listening to a softly spoken or whispering voice
  • Watching somebody prepare food and eat it (without speaking)
  • Receiving tender personal attention

Intentional ASMR refers to the deliberate seeking-out of those triggers in the form of external video and/or audio media. ASMR videos can include a myriad of scenarios, but most include one or a few of the following: soft speaking or whispering; light, repetitive noises, personal, altruistic attention, mundane tasks, and sometimes the optional no speaking to allow for complete focus on the sounds.

Many people have spoken out about the positive effect that watching ASMR videos has in particular on anxiety, depression and insomnia – even P.T.S.D. However, the evidence is mostly personal anecdotal accounts by those who say they have benefited from the use of ASMR videos.

Music can help boost ASMR response as well. I recently came across an article which discussed how researchers had discovered a song that had been scientifically proven to reduce one’s anxiety by sixty-five percent just by listening to it.

There is currently no strong scientific data nor any clinical trials involving ASMR videos in particular, but there have been attempts at poll-taking and information-gathering, including one scientific fact-finding mission launched by psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barrat. In this study, they found that light whispering was an effective trigger for 75% of the 475 subjects who took part in an experiment to investigate the nature of ASMR.

Furthermore, within the category of intentional ASMR videos that simulate the presentation of personal attention and is a subcategory of those specifically depicting the ‘ASMRtist’ providing “therapeutic”, “clinical” or “medical” services, including routine general medical examinations. The creators of these videos make no claims to be authentic or licensed, and the viewer is intended to be aware that they are watching and listening to a simulation only.

Even so, many subjects ascribe perceived “therapeutic” outcomes to these and other categories of intentional ASMR videos, and there are copious anecdotal reports of their effectiveness in inducing sleep for those susceptible to insomnia, and soothing the aforementioned anxiety, depression, P.T.S.D. related symptoms. I can say from personal experience that I find the use as a practice very soothing and it complements my overall mental health protocol.

References

Barratt EL, Davis NJ. (2015) Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ 3:e851 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.851

Copeland, Libby.  How Researchers Are Beginning To Gently Probe The Science Behind ASMR,  Smithsonian Mag,   Smithsonian.com, 16, Mar,  2017.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/researchers-begin-gently-probe-science-behind-asmr-180962550/.

Neuroscientists Discover a Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent, ThinkingHumanityhttp://www.thinkinghumanity.com/2017/02/neuroscientists-discover-a-song-that-reduces-anxiety-by-65-percent-listen.html

Simner, Julia. “Why Are There Different Types of Synesthete?” Frontiers in Psychology 4 (2013): 558. PMC. Web. 17 June 2017.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3759026/

 

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