Why People Listen To This Whispering Woman To Feel Better

“There are lots of ways to trigger pleasurable feelings,” Art Markman, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Texas, tells Yahoo Health, “For example, the release of the hormone oxytocin is known to create feelings of trust and closeness with others. … Whatever the physiological basis of ASMR, it probably operates in the same way — that is, mechanisms that cause pleasant feelings are associated (for some people) with the soft sounds and soothing voices.”

People with ASMR have simply found a way to trigger these pleasant sensations, he adds. “And, through the magic of the Internet, the members of this community have found each other.” 

In an interview this summer with The New York Times, Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, a sleep disorders specialist at Columbia University, says those who identify as having ASMR seem to be able to use their condition to “trick the unconscious” by offering “a variation on finding ways to shut your brain down.” This helps them to relax and go to sleep.

As for a scientific explanation for ASMR, TIME quotes from the blog of Yale neuroscientist Steven Novella, MD, who muses, “Perhaps ASMR is a type of seizure. Seizures can sometime be pleasurable, and can be triggered by these sorts of things. Or, ASMR could just be a way of activating the pleasure response. Vertebrate brains are fundamentally hardwired for pleasure and pain — for positive and negative behavioral feedback.”

The University of Sheffield in England is currently in the process of studying ASMR; researchers offer an online quiz that you can take (as part of their data collection), which involves watching a series of videos and answering questions about how they make you feel.

They write in introduction of their quiz: “In this study, we’d like to find out more about the experience of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). ASMR can be described as a tingling sensation that begins in the top of the head and can spread down the spine and the rest of the body. … Some people experience ASMR and others do not and we are interested in finding out more about people with and without ASMR.”

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Likewise, last year, a Dartmouth University student pursued an in-depth ASMR investigation for his senior thesis, using MRI imaging to try to identify and isolate what is happening in the brain that makes certain individuals react so strongly to these very specific forms of aural stimuli.

Not one of the “lucky ones” who find themselves experiencing ASMR? There are plenty of other ways to foster a mind-body connection and generate relaxation, Markman says. Join the “growing community of practitioners of mindfulness meditation,” he suggests, or “you can find a person in your life to be physically close to. Physical closeness creates a sense of warmth and relaxation. If you don’t have a person in your life that you can be close to in that way, consider getting a pet or volunteering at an animal shelter. Being close to a cat or dog can also stimulate the release of oxytocin.”

And then there’s the more obviously relaxing option: Hit the spa. “A massage … can connect you more closely to the sensations of your body and can bring you a sense of relaxation,” Markman says.

As for the likelihood that there really are so many people soothed by the voices of whispering strangers? Novella says in his blog that the jury is still out as to whether ASMR is definitively real, but that “I am inclined to believe that it is.” 

He adds: “There are a number of people who seem to have independently (that is always the key, but it is a recent enough phenomenon that this appears to be true) experienced and described the same syndrome with some fairly specific details. In this way it’s similar to migraine headaches — we know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history. … In any case it is plausible that a subset of the population has a particular pattern of neural hard wiring so that when they experience certain things that are typically quietly satisfying they get a little extra shot to their pleasure center. … This is just another example of how our brains are fantastically complex and weird.” 

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