A while ago I was having a conversation with my colleague, who was in turn describing a conversation he’d had with his father once. His father had described how, if he meditated in a certain, he was able to induce certain pleasant feelings. A few years later he was browsing the internet and stumbled across the idea of “ASMR”, recognising the feeling his father had described. Interesting he thought it was a bit of secret, that not many people knew about it – which is not my experience, but that might just be a difference in our friend groups or the parts of the internet we hang out in.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia.
Above is the most accurate, consistent description of ASMR that can I can find, from everyone’s favourite source of varying trustworthiness, Wikipedia. A lot of people describe the reaction they get from ASMR videos as close to an orgasm, but in their brains. I personally, do not get this reaction – but I certainly get something. I get some sort of negative brain tingly. There’s definitely some sort of reaction happening for me – but I don’t like it. I think it’s the whispering that bothers me the most. ASMR isn’t backed up by science (yet) but then again, large parts of the Asperger’s/Autism experience isn’t backed up by science yet either. There are only few papers on ASMR, so it’s difficult to come to any hard conclusions on any of it.
The first thing I was struggling to define was the difference between ASMR and regular old white noise. ASMR triggers can be almost anything. As I mentioned before, whispering is a huge part of it, but the problem is nothing works for everyone. I found some sources literally listing white noise as an ASMR trigger, but my other half was of the opinion that they are different because they serve different purposes. White noise is (generally) to relax, whilst ASMR has the goal of producing the brain tinglies. Then again – here’s a source saying ASMR can help people relax and fall asleep! (and another!) Personally there are some white noises I like – particularly rain and trains – they comfort me and make me sleepy. Which isn’t the classic ASMR response as I understand it.
Definition of White Noise
1a : a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range
1b : a constant background noise; especially : one that drowns out other sounds
2 : meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub, or chatter
A white noise machine is a device that produces a sound that is random in character, which sounds like a rushing waterfall or wind blowing through trees.
Some of this got me wondering if there was any link between ASMR and autism – especially for those of us that have HYPO sensitivities rather than HYPER sensitivities. Those of us who are hypo-sensitive or sensory-seeking might be drawn to these videos if they have the sounds they desire – or then again, those of us who are hyper-sensitive or sensory-avoiding might seek out these videos as a respite from the rest of the world. Whilst there is no scientific papers (that I can find) specifically looking at the intersection of ASMR and Autism, there are plenty of personal accounts.
One other interesting tidbit I ran across in my research for this article was a theory suggesting ASMR might actually be a mild type of Synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is essentially when the senses get confused – the ones I’ve heard most about being visual/auditory (there was a House episode on that one!) or taste/auditory but in the case of ASMR it would be tactile/auditory. I’ve always thought Synaesthesia to been kind of cool and half-wanted the visual/auditory kind (I’m sure that in reality it’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth). There does seem to be a link between Synaesthesia and ASMR.
Most people (in my opinion – I am not a medical professional) have had some experience of this, whether they realise it or not – nails on a chalkboard, anyone? That’s certainly a minor tactile/auditory Synaesthesia experience, albeit not a pleasant one. Not that I’ve seen a chalkboard in about 15-20 years but there are other sensations for me. Fingernails catching and scraping on things, particularly plastic covered books. Moving away from tactile/auditory, does anyone else know the taste of cold or associate sounds with colours? Or the feel of one of these thingies?
A common theory is that many of us experience ASMR a lot more strongly as children, but it fades away as we grow up. Certainly a large proportion of the population either can’t trigger the sensation or haven’t found the right trigger yet. Do any of you get ASMR? What works for you? Do you know of anyone who might have found a link between ASMR and Autism?
- Is This Porn? 5 Realities Inside A Strange New Art Form
- ASMR and Autism – Reddit
- What is ASMR – ASMR University
- 6 Ways You See the World Differently When You Can Hear Color
- Autonomous sensory meridian response – Wikipedia
- White noise machine – Wikipedia
- Definition of White Noise – Merriam-Webster
- ASMR – Wrong Planet
- Is ASMR Actually a type of Synaesthesia?
- ASMR and ‘head orgasms’: what’s the science behind it? – The Guardian
- Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state – PUBMED
- Test your sensitivity to ASMR with this skin-tingling sound generator
- ASMR – free, intensely pleasurable relaxation for a lucky few