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Duration:04:36
Uploaded:2015-06-30
Last sync:2018-05-10 18:20
Hundreds of thousands of people get a tingling sensation, called ASMR, from things like whispering or personal attention. Here’s what science has to say about it.

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Sources:
https://peerj.com/articles/851/
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/rustle-tingle-relax-the-compelling-world-of-a-s-m-r/
http://asmruniversity.com/2015/04/25/first-asmr-research-publication-three/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-whisper-then-tingles-then-87-million-youtube-views-meet-the-star-of-asmr/2014/12/12/0c85d54a-7b33-11e4-b821-503cc7efed9e_story.html
I'm gonna get real up close and personal for a second, but bear with me, it's for science. 

(in a soft whisper)
I see you've come in for a hair cut. Let me just get my scissors.

Did you feel anything strange just now, like shivers down your spine and like a tingling sensation; especially if you were wearing headphones. If so, you're probably one of those people who experience what's known as ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response; and according to research published in the online journal PeerJ, it's a real thing.

ASMR is basically the tingling sensation that some people get in response to a stimulus, any stimulus. Over the last few years, it's got more and more popular, with communities of hundreds of thousands of people forming around YouTube content designed to trigger that shivery feeling. Often the videos will involve some kind of consistent sound or visual, like whispering, softly crinkling paper, or repeated movements. Lots of them also incorporate personal attention and role play, like the creator giving a haircut to the person who's watching the videos for example.

But there are also a bunch of people who don't believe it's real. The weird thing is that because ASMR is so new scientists don't know much about it. But if hundreds of thousands of people are saying that they experience something, a biological thing that we didn't even realize was a wide spread phenomenon, well researchers are gonna start investigating. After all investigating is what researchers do. 

The first peer reviewed study of ASMR was published in March by two psychologists from Swansea University in the UK. They wanted to do four things: define the ASMR sensation, figure out what causes it, explore the connection to similar unusual feelings, and find out if it really does help with depression and chronic pain. So the researchers surveyed 475 people online, all of whom said that they were sensitive to ASMR, and asked them questions about YouTube videos specifically. Most of the subjects described the feeling as a spreading tingling sensation, and 63% observed that it started in a particular place in their bodies like their scalps or shoulders.

As for what induces ASMR, whispering was the most popular trigger with 3 quarters of the participants choosing that option. And the second highest percentage was 69% of people who said that personal attention triggered their ASMR. Other common causes include crisp sounds and slow repetitive movements, though about half of the participants needed a specific type of environment for the ASMR videos to work at all. And while 98% of survey-takers used ASMR videos to help them relax, only 5% said that they found them sexually stimulating.

The researchers also wanted to see if people who feel ASMR are more likely to experience synesthesia, where senses and body parts get mixed up. A synesthete might describe it as hearing colors or smelling music, for example. 5.9% of the participants did seem to have some degree of synesthesia, which the team confirmed in a follow up interview. But that wasn't a significantly higher percentage than in the general population where about 4.4% of people have it.

To learn more about ASMR's effects on mood, depression, and pain they analyzed the depression risk of their subjects with popular tests for depression and anxiety. Then they asked the survey-takers whether they found that ASMR affected their mood, and 80% said 'yes'. Oddly enough half of people said that it didn't matter whether they felt the tingling at the time, just watching the videos made them feel better. Participants then rated their mood on a scale of 0, worse thing that ever happened to you, to 100, happiest moment of your life, before, during, and at intervals up to 3 hours after an ASMR session- and a clear trend emerged.

Peoples moods were kind of 'meh' before the session, much better during and immediately afterward, and then slid back down over the next few hours. But among people who had high risk for depression the average mood improvement was more than double the change for those who had low risk; and around half of the 91 people with chronic pain said that either ASMR did help with their pain or that they weren't really sure. Among those people the survey showed that the tingling really did ease their symptoms for at least those first 3 hours. 

The researchers point out that of course there is still a lot more to learn about ASMR, like its physiological effects. Some scientists have even suggested that the tingling feeling might be some kind of tiny seizure. They're also curious about ASMR's possible connection to synesthesia as well as misophonia, which is kind of the opposite of ASMR where certain sounds like heavy breathing or chewing loudly make you want to punch a wall; and we're curious too. Do you experience ASMR? Do you seek out YouTube videos for it.

(in a soft whisper)
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