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ASMR Videos Flood Social Media - What's the Phenomenon About Today?

Scrolling through YouTube or TikTok, it's highly likely you'll encounter videos where creators whisper into the microphone, accompanied by bizarre hand gestures, though there are also those focusing on the sounds of everyday activities.
Such activities might include combing hair, folding towels, or tapping fingertips. At first glance, this might seem odd, yet it's no exaggeration to claim that the phenomenon has captured the world's attention, as many find these videos help them relax and unwind. In today's fast-paced world, ASMR content swiftly conquered various social media platforms, becoming one of the most popular formats for content creation. According to a report by The New York Times in 2019, nearly two hundred or more such videos were uploaded daily. But what makes these videos so impactful on people, what exactly is ASMR, and why does it have a positive effect on the body?

ASMR, defined as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is described as a tingling sensation that typically begins at the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. Characterized by a combination of positive experiences and a static-like feeling on the skin, ASMR often brings about a sense of relaxation or calm. However, the sensation can also be triggered by gentle physical touches, such as a scalp massage in a hair salon. Initially a curious psychological oddity, it rapidly turned into a YouTube sensation.

"STRANGE SENSATION, YET PLEASURABLE"

In the 2000s, Jennifer Allen watched a video about space and experienced a strange, warm sensation starting from her scalp and spreading to her limbs. Although she enjoyed the feeling, at the time, she was unsure of its source due to its unique nature. After nine years of searching terms like "tingling scalp" or "brain orgasm" without success, she stumbled upon a post titled "Strange Sensation, Yet Pleasurable" in 2009, which discussed similar experiences.

"My God, these people are describing exactly what I feel," she thought, followed by a sense of calm upon realizing she wasn't alone. The discourse around this unnamed sensation only grew. Some suggested the need for a research group to better understand the phenomenon, while others feared societal repercussions, concerned about being labeled as "perverse" or "sick" for their experiences.

Convinced there was a scientific explanation, Jennifer pondered the perfect terminology in February 2010. Despite connections to orgasm between 2007 and 2010, forum participants objected to this association, distinguishing the euforic nature of ASMR from sexual arousal. Thus, Jennifer coined the term ASMR. In a 2016 interview, she confirmed that she chose these terms for their objective and professional quality over alternatives.

DIFFERENCES IN PHYSIOLOGY BETWEEN THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE ASMR AND THOSE WHO DO NOT

Although scientific research is still limited, some facts are certain. For instance, ASMR is different from mere relaxation. In 2018, a research group led by Giulia Lara Poerio demonstrated that ASMR can induce an unusual combination of symptoms, unlike simple relaxation or meditation practices. These symptoms might include physiological arousal, like sweating, or relaxation-related elements such as a decreased heart rate.

The study found that participants watching these videos showed increased brain activity in areas associated with self-awareness, the brain's reward system, and emotional arousal. Poerio's results suggest ASMR could have therapeutic benefits for both mental and physical health, though she acknowledged the need for further research in the field.

Physiologist Craig Richard, in a TED talk a year earlier, reported similar brain activation during video viewing as when receiving positive, personal feedback or attention in real life. He noted positive changes in those struggling with anxiety or insomnia. Richard views these processes through an evolutionary lens, suggesting the tingling encouraged reproduction and survival. Triggers like grooming, whispering, or eye contact closely mimic methods for soothing infants in real life.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ASMR AND PERSONALITY TRAITS

The question arises why some people can experience this sensation while others remain unaffected by the videos. Research has indicated that this responsiveness may correlate with personality traits. A study published in 2017 by Beverley Fredborg, Jim Clark, and Stephen D. Smith from the University of Winnipeg found that those who had experienced ASMR were more open to new experiences, showed lower conscientiousness, and scored higher in neuroticism, indicating a proneness to negative emotional reactions.

OUR STUDY found that subjects with higher openness to new experiences and neuroticism reported more intense ASMR feelings.

THE SOOTHING EFFECT OF ASMR

ASMR sensations are often triggered by certain stimuli, termed "triggers." These can be caused by specific sounds or visuals, such as a whispering voice, the sound of breathing, tapping, or manipulating various objects.

In a noisy, bustling world with constant phone ringing, finding peace can be challenging. However, ASMR creates a calm and peaceful atmosphere by crafting absurd everyday scenarios. According to a report by Psychology Today, a majority of ASMR enthusiasts use these videos to fall asleep by lowering stress levels, diverting attention from troubling thoughts, and generally improving well-being.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ASMR AND SEX

Craig Richard mentions it's challenging to discuss ASMR without addressing sex. Some videos suggest the genre is highly sexualized, closely linked to various degrees of intimacy.

"The visual elements most ASMR videos feature resemble what one might imagine happens during healthy foreplay. People talk gently to each other, lightly touch one another, make eye contact, and express physical or vocal care—making the other person feel safe," the specialist told The New York Times.

However, every activity has its boundaries of acceptable intimacy. Observers quickly notice a gender imbalance among ASMR content creators, which could historically be explained by women's roles in providing comfort and care, though there's likely more at play.

With the rise in popularity of ASMR videos, many have attempted to create their own channels and content to build a larger following and monetize their work. This shift has led to the replacement of everyday objects with sponsored products and the production of sexually charged content to attract more followers.
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