Hundreds of thousands experience ‘brain tingles’, says Winnipeg ASMR researcher

Have you experienced the ‘brain tingles’?

If you know what that means, you might be one of the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide with an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) to certain sounds.

An ASMR experience is characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on your skin, starting with the scalp and moving down the back of your neck and spine.

It’s triggered by certain sounds – often soft-spoken or whispering voices and soft, repetitive sounds – and thanks to ASMR video stars like Toronto’s GwenGwiz, who has hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers, it has become a genuine Internet sensation.

One of the world’s leading ASMR rearchers is University of Winnipeg psychology professor Stephen Smith.

“If you’ve heard some music that sent chills down your spine, it’s very similar to what the ASMR people experience,” Smith told 680 CJOB.

“The difference is that we experience the tingles down our spine maybe once a year or so, but the people with ASMR can experience this whenever they watch these types of videos and hear these types of sounds.”

Smith, who said he doesn’t personally experience ASMR sensations while watching the videos, had never heard of the phenomenon until he was introduced to it by a psychology student.

“I looked on the Internet and saw all of these strange videos and it just kind of spiralled into a larger research program than I ever thought it would be,” he said.

“I have so much data that if I didn’t leave my office for the next two years, I wouldn’t be bored.”

Part of Smith’s research involves comparing brain scans of people who experience ASMR with those who don’t.

“In a typical brain, what you’d find is there are fairly distinct networks of brain areas that fire together, essentially as a team,” he said.

“In people with ASMR, there’s a lot of blending of these networks.”

Although there are a lack of clinical trials, Smith said it’s quite possible ASMR can be used in a similar way as meditation, at least in those who feel the tingles.

“There’s a great opportunity here for this subset of the population that does experience the tingles,” he said.

“For the ASMR people, there are thoughts that it could have health benefits, although that hasn’t yet been proven.”

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