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Brain Tingles: The Mystery of ASMR

By Krista Elliott

On the surface, our senses seem pretty straightforward: Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. All distinct and separate, and we know how they work. 

Or do we? 

Sometimes our senses go a little bit beyond what is expected for reasons that science still hasn't completely unravelled. One of these little mysteries is a phenomenon called ASMR. 

What is ASMR?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. People who experience it describe a tingling in the scalp, back, and sometimes limbs, along with a pleasurable sense of well-being. Well, sure. We all get that when getting our scalp rubbed or our neck massaged, right? The difference, however, is that ASMR is not triggered by touch. Instead, it is triggered by auditory or visual stimuli. 

One common trigger for ASMR is whispering. People who experience ASMR can derive extreme relaxation, tingles, and well-being simply from hearing gentle whispering, or nails scratching or tapping, or other soft sounds. 

It may sound weird, but physical responses to auditory stimuli are not that uncommon. The sound of someone getting sick may trigger nausea in you. The sound of someone scraping their teeth on utensils makes my teeth ache. Of course, the question is whether or not the responses are purely physical, or if they are caused by a chain reaction of unpleasant sounds triggering emotional responses which, in turn, trigger a physical response. 

Is ASMR Real? 

Those who experience it (including my own spouse) say that it's very real, and unfortunately, there hasn't been much in the way of study of this phenomena. A Swansea University study, however, found some interesting results. The researchers were indeed able to trigger ASMR fairly consistently among the study participants (all of whom self-identified as experiencing it when signing up for the study). Most interestingly, the researchers found a fairly high prevalence of synesthesia (a kind of cross-wiring of the senses, where people might see letters as certain colors, or experience tastes when hearing certain words) among the subjects, leading them to surmise that the same physiological causes of synesthesia may be responsible for ASMR. 

There is no way to know offhand if you are capable of experiencing ASMR, but it is completely harmless. So if you're curious, a quick internet search will turn up plenty of ASMR videos of people whispering, tapping their nails, or making other soft sounds. If you're bored stiff by these videos (like I am), then ASMR isn't in your makeup. But if you get delightful brain tingles and relaxation, then enjoy this simple, albeit slightly unusual, way to relieve your stress and feel great! 

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic.


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