Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

In the department of fun but odd self discovery, neurologist Steven Novella rounds up some material on the phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response. Do certain sounds or sights inexplicably relax you and give you a tingling sense down your back or the back of your head? For instance, certain speech patterns, especially with even cadences, or the sounds of tape and wrapping paper, or people performing tasks with focused attention? Anything like that?

Neurological events can have some very odd triggers. For example, in epilepsy, strobe lights are the most famous culprit, and that makes sense - large numbers of neurons get entrained. I was once wired up for a public EEG, with little strobe bulbs against my closed eyes, and the experimenter went through different flash frequencies until he found one that was just right, and caught a bunch more neurons in tow - the class OOOOHed when they saw the amplitude jump on the EEG. And interestingly enough, that frequency was noticeably more unpleasant to me than the others. Even the taste of garlic has been documented as a seizure trigger - the taste, not the smell.

There hasn't been much work on ASMR if only because it's not a pressing medical problem and research dollars are limited. I'm posting this for fun in the hopes that some other readers will have had similar experiences, otherwise I'm about to look like a (bigger) freak. I have this experience with certain speech patterns, and oddly enough, it's specifically with preachers. I was raised atheist so my only experience with them is on video. From the time I was a kid I was aware that a) this is all hooey but b) I get oddly relaxed and tingly listening to people talking this way (some more than others). I don't even have to like the person! What's interesting about it is it's more evidence that the effect that language has on us can be separated into semantic content and non-content categories, and that even for those of us who don't react to it like I do, I expect that most of the effect of language is independent of its semantic content.

11 comments:

Unknown said...

Thanks for your blog. I too, have the same thing (I call it a thing because its not an illness, at least i hope not lol). Im a 27 y/o male. Active, in good shape and health.

In my case, Its rarely triggered by talking, and more frequently triggered by the sound of typing, rummaging through a bag or purse etc. I remember as a kid being able to sleep with the sound of Bob Ross (the famous painter) playing in the background. The sound of the paint strokes hitting the canvas was soothing to me. Weird, I know.

For a while, I always thought everyone had this experience but to my surprise, I was wrong. Ive asked some of my friends and colleagues about this and they generally look at me sideways like im crazy. The only way to describe the feeling is a tingling sensation(not a numbing or irratable feeling), but in your brain/spine/back arms. I find it to be very relaxing or even orgasmic (maybe orgasmic is pushing the envelope but you get my point hahaha).

As I understand this type of behavior has not been documented or researched much, I would be interested to know how many people worldwide experience the same thing, and whether those individuals are at less/more risk for any diseases or issues involving the sensory gland or brain. As long as it is determined that there are no long term effects to having this "thing", I must say I enjoy ASMR. :)

Anonymous said...

I’ll just leave this here:
http://www.asmrelax.com/

Michael Caton said...

Unknown, for me it's the head and the back. These things are interesting but of course the research $ go into things that are killing people, and while this is neat to learn about it'll be a while before much more academic attention is paid to it. (That's okay with me. Cure cancer first.) But from people sharing experiences like this we can start to get a rough idea about how widespread it is and what other conditions it connects to. That I know of no one is calling it an illness. Certainly for me it's not a complaint, although I do notice I get sleepy if I experience it for a long time, so it's dangerous to have it while driving.

cswann said...

I've had this as far as I can remember. I've found I can trigger it with certain climatic build up in music or the thought of a strong emotional dependancy put on me. The strongest sensation though is when I breathe deep and feel myself "disconnecting " with what's going on around me. A slow deep breath and a slow exhale. The tingles run down my back and stay right above my wrists. I've found this feeling though the more I do it. The more eerie it begins to feel. Also depending on how I sit stand or lay is how the feeling will rush. Mine will accompany sometimes watery eyes. Not tears because I don't have a runny nose or red cheeks. I've thought and all I can come up with is a sensory overload. The feeling is addictive. Cswann187@Gmail.com

cswann said...

I've had this as far as I can remember. I've found I can trigger it with certain climatic build up in music or the thought of a strong emotional dependancy put on me. The strongest sensation though is when I breathe deep and feel myself "disconnecting " with what's going on around me. A slow deep breath and a slow exhale. The tingles run down my back and stay right above my wrists. I've found this feeling though the more I do it. The more eerie it begins to feel. Also depending on how I sit stand or lay is how the feeling will rush. Mine will accompany sometimes watery eyes. Not tears because I don't have a runny nose or red cheeks. I've thought and all I can come up with is a sensory overload. The feeling is addictive.

Anonymous said...

I've experienced these my entire life, and can trigger them at will when relaxed by mentally focusing on concepts like romantic love and spiritual tranquility. I tend to focus in to them to intensify the experience, and last month had to pull over while driving because it was so overwhelming. I'd put them on the same scale as orgasms, but entirely non-sexual

Anonymous said...

I'm a skeptic regarding most phenomena with no footprint in peer-reviewed literature, but I feel infuriated that the ASMR article on Wikipedia has been taken down - clearly it's a common sensation for it to propagate via videos on youtube - there's no ideological reason behind it. I haven't felt it that often, but when I have it's been very difficult to describe, apart from a tingle caused by being in a quiet room where somebody is whispering close by, or nibbling a biscuit. it was utter bliss but also completely non-sexual, and it seems a very natural phenomenon, not half as dubious as a lot of Wikipedia entries.With AMSR, the line between skepticism and cynicism has been crossed. Perhaps it needs a new name, but it is clearly a real neurological phenomenon.

Michael Caton said...

Whether something is peer-reviewed is related to the different levels of confidence required to believe and act on something. So I would say it's hard to say it's a "real neurological" phenomenon. Clearly there's an experience that a lot of people have had so it's better to have an article, even if more skepticism is injected into the Wikipedia article (which isn't really peer-reviewed) - i.e., "ASMR has no footprint in scientific literature but is an experience claimed to be shared by many" - fine.

MrKappa said...

Foreign Languages and hand fixations were what first got me interested in it. Chills down my back, eventually gave way to full head tingles.

Michael Caton said...

What's funny for me is that the most reliable producer of the experience is medical conversation simulations on Youtube. I'm in medical school. When I'm in these conversations (or providing them!) I don't get it at all. There's information there.

LLKRea said...

In 5th grade I would put my ear down on my desk whenever I would see someone reaching into their desk drawer. I would listen as they rumbled through their pencil box and it would almost put me in a sleep mode, but not quite.
I am 41 year old male and these things still trigger me. When certain people ruffle through file folders, newspapers, glossy magazines, etc. And only certain people who tend to be more "slow" or maybe they are just more focused and not rushed. I dont know about the tingling aspect of it, I just simply get in a trance and fall into a sleep where I tend to have controllable dreams.
A year ago I found a trend on youtube where women would dig through their purses and describe what they had in it ... I would use these to fall asleep. Then I stumbled upon crinkling plastic and it said "ASMR". Thats when I found out others experienced this and it was labeled.
Other triggers are driving over gravel, the sound of shale rocks braking while searching for fossils, clinking of objects like makeup or anything in a bag. BUT the person needs to be truly focused on it and not just doing it to make the sounds, and it helps if the person is trying to be quiet.
My wife thought I was crazy, but now that I showed her others feel the same way, I am closer to sane.