Probing The Physiology of ‘Brain Tingles’
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is the sensation experienced by some individuals in response to specific sights and soft sounds, such as whispering, tapping or slow hand movements.
These feelings are described as a warm, tingling and pleasant sensation starting at the crown of the head and spreading down the body. The “tingles” are sometimes described as “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms.” They are typically accompanied by feelings of calm and relaxation.
There are more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube — including medical examinations, haircuts and massages and folding towel tutorials — which people view to relax, relieve stress or sleep better. Still, research on ASMR has been limited.
In the first study of its kind to look into the physiological mechanisms of ASMR, researchers from the University of Sheffield in England discovered that those who experience the phenomenon had significantly reduced heart rates while watching ASMR videos compared to people who do not experience ASMR.
“Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood and awareness of the sensation has risen dramatically over the past decade due to internet sites such as YouTube and Reddit,” said Dr. Giulia Poerio of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology.
“However, ASMR has gone virtually unnoticed in scientific research, which is why we wanted to examine whether watching ASMR videos reliably produces feelings of relaxation and accompanying changes in the body such as decreased heart rate.”
For the study, the researchers investigated whether ASMR is a reliable and physiologically rooted experience with the potential to benefit the physical and mental health of those who experience it.
In one experiment, they observed the physiological changes that occurred when participants watched two different ASMR videos and one control (non-ASMR) video in a laboratory setting. Half of the participants had been recruited because they identified as experiencing ASMR; the other half were recruited to act as age- and gender-matched controls who did not experience ASMR.
The researchers discovered that those who experience ASMR showed significantly greater reductions in their heart rates while watching ASMR videos (an average decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) compared to those who do not. They also showed significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.
“Our studies show that ASMR videos do indeed have the relaxing effect anecdotally reported by experiencers, but only in people who experience the feeling. This was reflected in ASMR participants’ self-reported feelings and objective reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants,” said Poerio.
“What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness. ”
In another experiment, over 1,000 participants completed an online survey after viewing a selection of ASMR and control (non-ASMR) video clips, stating how frequently they experienced ‘tingles’ and their emotional response to each video. Those who experience ASMR were also asked also answered questions about their common ASMR triggers and general experiences of the condition.
The findings show that, compared to non-ASMR participants, those who experience ASMR reported more frequent tingling, increased levels of excitement and calmness, and decreased levels of stress and sadness. There were no significant differences between ASMR and on-ASMR participants in their emotional responses to the control videos.
Source: University of Sheffield
Pedersen, T. (2018). Probing The Physiology of ‘Brain Tingles’. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/06/25/probing-the-physiology-of-brain-tingles/136448.html