I’m not quite sure what it is about the freaky things that people do. It feels like we’ve seen it all: men getting their bits stuck in their car’s exhaust after making sweet love to it, people adding a dollop of Vicks Vaporub in their tea, toilet paper eating and the almost demonic reaction after someone cancels their World of Warcraft account (find it on YouTube – you won’t be disappointed).
It seems people have gone to extremes, with doctors so quick to label everything. Maybe they really just like eating toilet paper? Take for instance the neologism named Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) or “braingasms” in layman’s terms. It’s still fairly new, being coined back in 2008 by online groups focusing on this particular experience. Basically, it’s a sensation that commonly starts from your head and tingles all the way down to your toes after experiencing something visual or auditory, or which engages the sense generally. You know those goosebumps that appear on your arms or legs after hearing an amazing song? Yeah – it’s most likely the effect of a “braingasm”.
Now that we’ve got a label for this particular sensation, you might be tempted to say, “thanks for clearing that up; at least I know now what that weird feeling is”, and leave it at that. Well – no. If you delve within the deepest confines of our friendly neighbourhood watchdog YouTube, you’ll actually find hundreds of videos regarding ASMR. These aren’t the informative ones like those TED Talks videos. Instead these videos feature YouTube users uploading clips of themselves deliberately doing something – anything – with an aim to make someone feel those chills down their spine.
Surprisingly, there’s actually a YouTube channel dedicated to these kinds of videos. I volunteered myself as tribute (guinea pig) and watched one. It was quite normal at first – a woman sitting behind a desk with greeting cards, journals and books on either side of her. Then she started talking – or whispering, more like, and it was around this time that I began to feel a little weirded out. By this point I had decided to put headphones on, close my eyes and just listen. I assumed then that she had started tapping the journals lightly and flicking through their pages. When I finished the video, I must say that there was no feeling for me at all, but if an avid ASMR experiencer watched the same video as I had, they would most likely experience a sensual and soothing tingling throughout their body. There are actual polls also focusing on ASMR, particularly concerning which part of the body people begin to feel the tingles. In one poll, out of 108 people, 58% said the tingles linger in the head region, 24% experience it from head to toe, 11% feel it from other parts of the body and 6% didn’t get any reactions at all.
It’s been noted that people deliberately watch and listen to these types of videos to relieve insomnia, panic attacks and anxiety. There’s a certain logic to this as some videos, or even audio tracks alone, serve to remind people of being read a story before bedtime. Furthermore, the general consensus in critical discussion of ASMR is that the phenomenon is either calming or relaxing, and should not be confused for sexual arousal. Come to think of it though, who knows? Different people have different reactions to a lot of things. For now, who’s up for some gentle ASMR whispering before hitting the sack? I know I am.