Brain ASMR: How to Use It for Meditation, Sleep, and Relaxation
Brain ASMR: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It's Good for You
Have you ever felt a pleasant tingling sensation in your scalp and neck when someone whispers in your ear, taps on a book, or brushes your hair? If so, you may have experienced ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, a phenomenon that millions of people around the world enjoy and seek out through various media.
But what exactly is ASMR, how does it work, and why is it good for you? In this article, we will explore the science, the benefits, and the best ways to experience this unique brain phenomenon.
What is ASMR?
The definition and history of ASMR
ASMR is a term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity professional who wanted to describe the feeling she had since childhood when exposed to certain stimuli. She chose the words autonomous, meaning self-governing or independent; sensory, meaning related to the senses; meridian, meaning peak or climax; and response, meaning reaction or feedback.
ASMR is defined as "a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck, as experienced by some people in response to a specific gentle stimulus, often a particular sound" by the Oxford Dictionary. However, some people may also feel ASMR in other parts of their body, such as their arms, legs, or chest.
The history of ASMR is not well documented, but some people have traced its origins to the works of artists, writers, and musicians who used subtle sounds and movements to evoke emotional responses in their audiences. For example, some have suggested that Bob Ross, the famous painter and TV host, was an unintentional ASMRtist (a person who creates ASMR content) because of his soothing voice and brush strokes.
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The common triggers and types of ASMR
ASMR triggers are the stimuli that elicit the tingling sensation in some people. They can be divided into two main categories: auditory and visual. Auditory triggers include sounds such as whispering, tapping, crinkling, scratching, chewing, or humming. Visual triggers include movements such as hand gestures, hair brushing, face touching, or eye contact.
However, some people may also experience ASMR from other types of stimuli, such as tactile, olfactory, or cognitive. Tactile triggers include sensations such as light touch, massage, or tickling. Olfactory triggers include smells such as lavender, vanilla, or mint. Cognitive triggers include activities such as reading, writing, or meditating.
The types of ASMR that people experience may vary depending on their preferences, personalities, and moods. Some people may prefer gentle and relaxing triggers, while others may enjoy intense and stimulating ones. Some people may experience ASMR only from certain sources or contexts, while others may experience it from a wide range of stimuli.
The benefits and challenges of ASMR
ASMR has been reported to have many benefits for both physical and mental health, such as reducing stress, improving mood, enhancing creativity, and promoting sleep. ASMR has also been linked to increased empathy, altruism, and social connection, as it can foster a sense of intimacy and trust between the ASMRtist and the viewer. However, ASMR also faces some challenges, such as the lack of scientific research, the stigma and misunderstanding from some people, and the potential risks of overexposure or addiction. ASMR is still a relatively new and understudied phenomenon, and more research is needed to understand its causes, effects, and implications. ASMR is also sometimes perceived as weird, sexual, or fetishistic by those who do not experience it or are unfamiliar with it. ASMR can also become problematic if it interferes with one's daily functioning, relationships, or well-being. How does ASMR work?
The physiological and psychological mechanisms of ASMR
The exact mechanisms of how ASMR works are not fully understood, but some researchers have proposed some possible explanations based on physiological and psychological factors. Physiologically, ASMR may be related to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response that lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. ASMR may also be influenced by the release of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that regulate pain, pleasure, bonding, mood, and reward.
Psychologically, ASMR may be associated with the concept of "flow", which is a state of optimal focus and immersion in an activity that leads to positive emotions and satisfaction. ASMR may also be influenced by the concept of "mindfulness", which is a state of awareness and acceptance of the present moment that reduces negative thoughts and feelings. ASMR may also be related to the concept of "affect attunement", which is a process of emotional resonance and synchronization between two people that fosters empathy and rapport.
The brain regions and neurotransmitters involved in ASMR
Some studies have attempted to identify the brain regions and neurotransmitters involved in ASMR using neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). One study found that ASMR was associated with increased activity in brain regions such as the nucleus accumbens, the medial prefrontal cortex, the insula, and the secondary somatosensory cortex. These regions are involved in reward processing, emotional regulation, interoception (the sense of one's internal bodily state), and tactile perception.
Another study found that ASMR was associated with decreased activity in brain regions such as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala. These regions are involved in stress response, fear processing, and arousal regulation. The study also found that ASMR was associated with increased levels of endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also induce euphoria.
The individual differences and genetic factors in ASMR
Not everyone experiences ASMR, and those who do may experience it differently depending on various factors. Some studies have suggested that personality traits such as openness to experience, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and sensory sensitivity may influence one's likelihood or intensity of experiencing ASMR. Other studies have suggested that empathy traits such as cognitive empathy, affective empathy, personal distress, fantasy, perspective-taking, empathic concern, emotional contagion, and mirror-touch synesthesia may also play a role in ASMR.
Additionally, some studies have proposed that genetic factors may contribute to ASMR. One study found that identical twins were more likely to share the same ASMR status (whether they experience it or not) than fraternal twins. Another study found that people who experience ASMR were more likely to have a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the gene that codes for oxytocin receptor. Oxytocin is a hormone that regulates social bonding, trust, and intimacy.
Why is ASMR good for you?
The effects of ASMR on stress, anxiety, and insomnia
One of the main reasons why people watch ASMR videos is to relax and cope with stress. Several studies have shown that watching ASMR videos can reduce stress levels by lowering cortisol (a stress hormone) levels , heart rate , blood pressure, skin conductance (a measure of arousal) levels physical and mental health, such as reducing stress, improving mood, enhancing creativity, and promoting sleep. ASMR has also been linked to increased empathy, altruism, and social connection, as it can foster a sense of intimacy and trust between the ASMRtist and the viewer. However, ASMR also faces some challenges, such as the lack of scientific research, the stigma and misunderstanding from some people, and the potential risks of overexposure or addiction. ASMR is still a relatively new and understudied phenomenon, and more research is needed to understand its causes, effects, and implications. ASMR is also sometimes perceived as weird, sexual, or fetishistic by those who do not experience it or are unfamiliar with it. ASMR can also become problematic if it interferes with one's daily functioning, relationships, or well-being. How does ASMR work?
The physiological and psychological mechanisms of ASMR
The exact mechanisms of how ASMR wo