ASMR: the emerging scientific quest to understand brain ‘tingles’

C C Offline
Whenever I try to eat an uncooked red onion, that's the only type of occasion I've firmly set to memory where I definitely experience "a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine". It's an event I would rather avoid, however. Though, perhaps repeated exposure could eventually make the feeling seem as palatable/addictive as these people apparently believe such to be.
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EXCERPTS: . . . No-one knows what percentage of the population experiences ASMR. In fact no-one knows very much about anything relating to ASMR. This isn’t that surprising given the first peer-reviewed paper on ASMR was only published in 2015, but since then the research has been all over the place. Researchers have compared the brains of people who do and don’t experience ASMR, and have examined the brains of people while experiencing ASMR. They have compared the personalities of people who do and don’t experience ASMR, and compared the emotional regulation abilities of those who do and don’t experience ASMR. But all these studies have been limited in size and scope, making it difficult to draw any firm conclusions.

This lack of coherence in the research makes it hard to say anything definite about our current understanding of the phenomenon or where future research will lead. This isn’t surprising given that we are barely a decade into recognising it as a real experience. Cynically, I suspect a lot of the research will focus on how ASMR can be exploited for commercial gain as companies have already recognised just how lucrative it can be, particularly as people are already exploring the effects of triggers on those who do not experience ASMR.

More broadly, I think that ASMR provides an interesting case for skeptics. It is a real phenomenon, even if its neurological underpinnings are currently unclear, but it’s a phenomenon that is impossible for someone who does not experience it to understand and easy to dismiss as made up. Any skeptic exploring the seemingly bizarre online community of ASMRists and their viewers for the first time can be forgiven for thinking they’ve found the latest woo. [...] The extravagant claims that have been made about ASMR as potential cures for anxiety and depression, even in children, only serve to reinforce the idea that this is pseudoscience preying on vulnerable or gullible people who mistake feelings of calm and contentment with some special sensation.

So how can a skeptic who doesn’t experience ASMR, or synaesthesia (another relatively recently recognised neurological phenomenon), or other some yet-to-be-discovered neurological phenomenon test the validity of claims that they exist? I think, perhaps controversially, that this may be an instance where we can say that anecdotes, in sufficient quantity and quality, accumulate to the point that they can be considered data. In the case of both ASMR and synaesthesia, there is a remarkable consistency in the reports from people who experience them.

[...] Steven Novella ... points out in the comments that people report all sorts of weird experiences but that doesn’t make them real ... I would argue that saying you have a specific and repeatable type of response to certain audio, visual or tactile cues is in a different league to saying you had a glimpse of the afterlife. (I’d also add that both the experiences he describes are real, just that they aren’t people literally leaving their body or seeing a door to the afterlife).

This isn’t to say that there isn’t pseudoscience within the ASMR communities. The commercialisation of ASMR has already begun and there is huge scope for exploitation of vulnerable people [...] But being skeptical of exploitative companies and individuals doesn’t mean we have to be skeptical of the underlying phenomenon... (MORE - missing details)
Syne Offline
While I don't experience ASMR, I do know the sensation. Live singers can occasionally hit the right note, etc. But everyone likely has a version of the response, even if it's just a harsher version, like nails on a blackboard, rubbing a balloon, etc..
stryder Offline
In some instance I'd assume it to be down to electromagnetics at the cellular level.

Consider for an instance an old CRT and a magnet. If the magnet isn't anywhere near the CRT, then the CRT behaves as you would expect. If you place the magnet near, the magnetic field alters the screen coloration. If you are lucky you can move the magnet away and no damage is done... however if the magnet is left in proximity of the CRT for too long it can cause the screen to suffer a permanent defect, at least as long as there is a permanent magnetic field present. (The use of Degausing is the only way to remove the effect)

In the human brain I would assume this means it could effect how synapses interpret the firing of nearby synapses through an EM field considering not all brain cell communication needs to use an axiom as exclusive communication path.

It's known that certain effects can stay with people after using MDMA (Ecstasy) such as listening to music while on the substance might cause "rushes" (An effect stimulated by both the drug and music), since it's an odd experience for most it gets lodged as a memory and even years after every time that piece of music is play the same effect can be stimulated even though no drug is present. (It could be questioned if the drug itself wasn't 100% pure "what it never said on a label" but perhaps a black op [in the] wild test.)

Spotted this old piece on Genetically Engineered 'Magneto' proteins just to give a rationality to how magnetism would potentially play a role, especially if theres an alteration in the cells.

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