What is ASMR and why it is so controversial?

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31 January
18:59
1 February
23:58

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen. The term is used to describe a “weird sensation” which was first discussed in 2007 on a website forum which grew to involve hundreds of individuals.

The ASMR sensation has been commonly and widely described across the internet by thousands of individuals since 2007 as being deeply relaxing and comforting, and usually accompanied by tingling sensations in the head. Popular triggers for inducing ASMR are getting a haircut, being attended to by a clinician, watching someone paint skilfully, hearing someone whisper, and listening to crinkling or tapping sounds. The ASMR sensation can still be induced if the stimuli are recorded and experienced through an audio or video recording.

The first ASMR YouTube channel, WhisperingLife, was created in 2009 by a woman posting videos of herself whispering. Thousands of ASMR channels now exist on YouTube with the most popular one being Gentle Whispering ASMR. This channel has over 850,000 subscribers and some of the videos have over 5 million views.

A current concern about ASMR is the dearth of scientific evidence. So far, there are only two peer-reviewed research publications about ASMR, the first one in 2015 and the second one in 2016. There are many additional ASMR research projects which are in progress and/or completed but are not yet published. Similar to migraines and synesthesia, it will take time for science to provide a fuller understanding to a phenomenon not easily observed or measured.

Another current curiosity about ASMR is if it is a sexual response. This curiosity has arisen because of a subset of ASMR channels referred to as erotica ASMR. These videos involve sexual imagery, behaviors, and/or sounds being combined with ASMR triggering imagery, behaviors, and/or sounds. Although it is logical that these videos can induce a sexual response, research is supporting the common understanding throughout the ASMR community that ASMR, by itself, is not a sexual response.

The previously mentioned research study published in 2015 collected information from about 500 individuals who experienced ASMR. The majority of research participants reported that they watch ASMR videos to relax, help with sleep, and deal with stress – only 5% reported watching videos for sexual stimulation.

Preliminary data collected in another study (by the author of this post) from over 10,000 participants also supports that ASMR is not primarily a sexual response. The majority of participants reported feeling relaxed, calmed, and soothed while experiencing ASMR – only about 10% reported sexual arousal. A collection of ASMR testimonials from individuals who experience ASMR also support that ASMR is not a sexual response for most people, but it may have a sexual component for a minority of individuals.

Overall, there is still a lot to be learned about ASMR and the journey to a complete understanding will be filled with moments of clarity and moments of confusion. Arriving at a clearer understanding of ASMR will be best served by quality research being done by a variety of scientists, in a variety of countries, with a variety of methods, and testing a variety of theories.

Follow Dr Richard's website to find out more about ASMR. 

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