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Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial, with a considerable cult following and strong anecdotal evidence to support the phenomenon but little or no scientific explanation or verified data.
Online discussion groups such as the Society of Sensationalists formed in 2008 on Yahoo! and The Unnamed Feeling blog created in 2010 by Andrew MacMuiris aimed to provide a community for learning more about the sensation by sharing ideas and personal experiences. Some earlier names for ASMR in these discussion groups included attention induced head orgasm, attention induced euphoria, and attention induced observant euphoria.
In response to these earlier phrases, the term autonomous sensory meridian response was coined by Jenn Allen, who explains that "autonomous" refers to the idiosyncrasy involved with people who experience ASMR, as the response varies from person to person, while "meridian" serves as a euphemism for orgasm. Since the mechanism of ASMR is not thought to be related to sexual orgasm, the term "orgasm" is misleading and not directly used.
A commonly reported stimulus for ASMR is the sound of whispering. As evident on YouTube, a variety of videos and audio recordings involve the creator whispering or communicating with a soft-spoken intonation into a sound recording device and generally a camera.
Many role-playing videos and audio recordings also aim to stimulate ASMR. Examples include descriptive sessions, in a style similar to guided imagery, for experiences such as haircuts, visits to a doctor's office, and ear-cleaning. While these make-believe situations are acted out by the creator, viewers and listeners report an ASMR effect that relieves insomnia, anxiety or panic attacks.
A conference in the UK (Boring 2012) included ASMR videos on its list of discussion topics. Coverage of this conference, as reported in Slate magazine, mentioned musician and journalist Rhodri Marsden introducing ASMR (alternatively called Auto-Sensory Meridian Response) as a type of nonsexual role-playing video on YouTube. Articles in The Huffington Post suggest certain triggers for ASMR. The articles mention pleasant tingling or buzzing sensations felt in the head and state that triggers such as the YouTube videos or hearing people whispering can stimulate the sensation. Other triggers may include goal-oriented tasks, soft-speaking, role-playing, and music. ASMR was mentioned in a Kotaku article stating that the phenomenon is similar to binaural beats in that certain sensory triggers, including whispering, stimulate sensations of tingling and euphoria.
A post in the British music magazine New Musical Express made distinctions between ASMR and frisson, noting that although both responses tend to evoke goose bumps in the observer, the emotional and physiological responses are different. Ohio State University School of Music professor David Huron claimed ASMR and cold chill to be different, describing the ASMR effect as "clearly strongly related to the perception of non-threat and altruistic attention", and noting a strong similarity to physical grooming in primates. Nonhuman primates derive significant pleasure from being groomed, and Huron states that they groom each other not to get clean, but to bond.
ASMR has been the topic of various audio and video newscasts. There has also been coverage in traditional and online print publications. A live radio broadcast[clarification needed] featured an interview with a man stating that he experiences ASMR and included a discussion of the phenomenon and what triggered it for him. A podcast in The McGill Daily mentions the high prevalence of ASMR videos on YouTube and features different people describing their personal experiences of the feeling. In both media discussions those who experience the phenomenon stated that ASMR is calming or relaxing and is not associated with sexual arousal.
Sacramento news program News10/KXTV reported on the emergence of ASMR videos on the internet for triggering ASMR and helping viewers relax or fall asleep. ASMR video creators, known as ASMR artists, were interviewed and described the ASMR community, ASMR videos and the intended audience for these videos. The fact that ASMR is used for relaxation and not sexual arousal was also addressed. News anchor Cristina Mendonsa reported on the ASMR whisper community by showing samples of ASMR videos and interviews with the video creators as well as the expert opinions from medical professionals. Mendonsa also created an ASMR video by guiding a whispered tour of the News10 studio and newsroom.
Steven Novella, Director of General Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine and active contributor to topics involving scientific skepticism, wrote in his neuroscience blog about the lack of scientific investigation on ASMR, saying that functional magnetic resonance imaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation technologies should be used to study the brains of people who experience ASMR in comparison to people who do not experience ASMR. Novella discusses the concept of neurodiversity and mentions how the complexity of the human brain is due to developmental behaviors across the evolutionary time scale. He also suggests the possibility of ASMR being a type of pleasurable seizure or another way to activate the pleasure response.
It might well be a real thing, but it's inherently difficult to research. The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you've got something like this that you can't see or feel, and it doesn't happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot. It's like synaesthesia – for years it was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it.
According to neurologist Edward J. O'Connor in the Santa Monica College newspaper The Corsair, an obstacle to accurately researching the ASMR phenomenon is that there may be no single stimulus which triggers ASMR for all individuals.
Sleep specialist Dr. Amer Khan of the Sutter Neuroscience Institute advised that using ASMR videos as a sleep aid may not be the best method for quality sleep and said they may become a habit similar to using a white noise machine or a baby using a pacifier for falling asleep.
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Yasinski supports the legitimacy of ASMR and claims it is similar to meditation since individuals, through focus and relaxation, may shut down parts of the brain responsible for stress and anxiety.
There is a lack of scientific evidence that ASMR has any general benefits or harms. Any claimed benefits are based on anecdotes (personal accounts of individual perception), not on clinical trials that provide data from which general efficacy and safety can be shown.