So many sounds go under my skin and even annoy me. I left the dining table after being outraged when I heard others chewing and swallowing. When someone in the cinema whispers something to me, it's so scary that I actually shudder.
When I first heard an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) video, my sensitivities were triggered, but not in a good way. I was so scared that I could only listen for a few seconds.
There are millions of ASMR videos on Youtube where people whisper, crumple paper and knock on tables. People are raving about ASMR as a self-help tool, and ASMR's YouTube channels are attracting millions of viewers. It's rooted in popular culture and was even featured in Super Bowl commercials this year by Michelob Ultra Gold, in which actress Zoe Kravitz whispered into a microphone while she was surrounded by a mountain landscape. The ad has more than 1
Those who love ASMR get an involuntarily warm, tingling sensation when they whisper, talk softly, knock or scratch. The tingling sensation leads to a calm, relaxed feeling that reduces anxiety. I feel the opposite when listening to ASMR videos. I feel undressed, stressed, anxious and even angry – no tingling.
Why do some people feel an overwhelming sense of calmness and others a sense of excitement or even anger in ASMR videos?
That remains unanswered by research, but there are several theories, says Craig Richard, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University, author of Brain Tingles and founder of the ASMR University site.
"It's definitely this complex thing that over time we're likely to be analyzing some of the factors that contribute to it," he says. "At the moment, however, there is no scientific connection to any reason or aspect why some people are relaxed with ASMR videos and some people can not shut them down fast enough."
Not everyone experiences ASMR.
ASMR refers to tingling when interacting with sounds. But not everyone actually experiences it and some are neutral.
Spencer Gerlin, a cognitive scientist and founder of the neuroanalytical company Spark Neuro, speculates that people who reject ASMR actually have no experience. "It begs the question: Do not they just experience it and is that why it's only neutral for them?" He says. "Or do you experience something that you really do not like?"
Most ASMR studies have relied on self-reported self-reports. A 2018 study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that tingling and positive reactions only occurred in people who said they had ASMR. They also showed reduced heart rates and increased skin conductance when watching ASMR videos.
Brain scans of persons who reported being ASMR experienced found that the areas of the brain associated with the reward system and the emotional arousal illuminate when they watch ASMR videos another study from 2018.
Experience has shown that ASMR pathogens may also have certain personality types, such as openness to new experiences and neuroticism, and less likely to show conscientiousness, extraversion, and tolerability.
ASMR haters may have misophony.
The sense of anger, fear or excitement through the sounds in ASMR content could be a sign of the state of misophony or "hatred of sound". Chewing, whispering, yawning, and other sounds can trigger a strong negative emotional reaction, often referred to as "fight or flight," for people with misopia.
But Richard says that there are parallels between ASMR and Misophonia – hypersensitivity to sounds, triggers of sounds, and persistent psychic or physical responses to sound, whether negative or positive. Misophony can also be genetic.
In a study conducted on Misophonia in 2017, respondents' responses to whether they felt a "pleasant tingling sensation" due to ASMR-like sounds were divided almost evenly. While ASMR and Misophony may be closely related, Richard emphasizes that ASMR tingling is not the same as shuddering when interacting with something creepy, weird, or exciting. Tingling reduces the heart rate and is "light, sparkling and pleasant". They usually feel on the scalp and inside, not on the skin surface, says Richard.
"My feeling is, when people say, 'These tingling sensations did not feel pleasant,' that could have been chills," he says.
Experience and expectations can influence feelings about ASMR.
ASMR is closely linked to past experiences, and the sensation resembles the feeling of a child. This can be reassuring for some, says Gerrol.
"For some people, there may have been something that was not pleasant in their childhood. These feelings can actually be something they resist, "he says.
Perceptions about ASMR also influence responses to it. When people were told that ASMR content would bring a pleasurable experience, they had a positive experience, according to a study from 2018. However, a perceived negative experience led to a negative reaction.
The fear of being judged could motivate some people to dislike ASMR, says Gerrol. He explains that the perceived craze in the videos could make people feel uncomfortable when they say they like them. "Are they sneaked off because they hate it?" He says. "Or did you freak of it because it actually liked a bit of you, but you do not really want to like it?"
Can we ever learn to love ASMR?
Those who feel anger, stress or horror from ASMR videos are unlikely to be educated to like them, scientists say. However, being open to an ASMR experience can bring some enjoyment, even to people who say they do not like it, says Gerrol.
"But that's not because the person is training himself. It is because the person has become open to enjoy something that they already had to prepare, "he says.