Tuesday, October 15

Stress Less: ASMR fails to tap into tingling sensations but still provides relaxation

Daily Bruin columnist Alissa Evans tried out autonomous sensory meridian response stimuli for the third installment of "Stress Less." While she found the soft sounds of ASMR videos to be relaxing, the videos did not provoke the pleasant physical response that many ASMR fans claim. (Daniel Miller/Daily Bruin)

Daily Bruin columnist Alissa Evans tried out autonomous sensory meridian response stimuli for the third installment of "Stress Less." While she found the soft sounds of ASMR videos to be relaxing, the videos did not provoke the pleasant physical response that many ASMR fans claim. (Daniel Miller/Daily Bruin)

Alissa Evans’ experience with stress stems primarily from her inability to definitively choose a major, a recently received D that taints her otherwise mediocre GPA and her complete and utter confusion regarding the abstract concept commonly referred to as her “future.” In the midst of a midcollege crisis, the Daily Bruin columnist decided to try a different stress-relieving activity every other week of winter quarter and chronicled her quest for mental homeostasis in Stress Less.

Listening to a woman whisper into a microphone as she methodically taps her nails against a porcelain tea cup is every bit as bizarre as it sounds.

Her name is Gibi, and she is just one of the many YouTubers who dedicate their channels to autonomous sensory meridian response stimuli. ASMR permeated popular culture after the forum thread on SteadyHealth.com “Weird Sensation Feels Good” garnered attention in 2007. The ASMR experience elicits a pleasant tingling sensation that often travels from the back of the scalp to the base of the spine, and is reportedly triggered by certain auditory stimuli such as whispering, tapping, scratching and blowing, which are said to produce a soothing response in the listener.

The consensus about the validity of ASMR, however, is far from unanimous. Major proponents of the practice swear by its effect, which has been described as a “brain orgasm,” while others who remain unaffected by the sounds consider the experience to be uncomfortable at best. The science and research behind ASMR is admittedly sparse, so this week, I assumed the prestigious position of Bill Nye the Science Guy to offer up my nonprofessional and completely subjective opinion regarding ASMR stimuli’s potential as a successful stress reliever.

While midterms continue to wreak havoc on my fleeting academic confidence, a new source of stress has recently arisen in my life: apartment hunting. Despite the fact that I still call my mom to ask how long I should microwave taquitos, I am expected to find a reasonably priced, well-managed place to live without the help of my parents. If a few spine tingles could help ease the messy transition into semiadulthood and prevent me from living in a friend’s closet, then I would gladly surrender my senses to the disarming whispers of a stranger on YouTube.

My ASMR journey began in the comfort of my own bed at approximately 3 a.m. As my roommate sat on the floor hunched over her history textbook, I prayed to the ASMR gods that the auditory stimuli would not elicit a physical reaction strange enough to compel her to move out immediately.

With some trepidation, I selected one of the top recommended videos and closed my eyes in an earnest attempt to fully give in to the experience.

The soft whisper of a young woman caressed my ears – first the left, then the right – as she explained that the 30-minute video would consist of her speaking softly while creating sounds with random objects. Because my innate reaction to a stranger whispering in my ear in real life would likely involve a full-body spasm, the initial sound put me on edge. But as she continued to talk and tap her fingers against a glass candle holder, I became more and more comfortable.

That being said, did I feel the chills in the back of my scalp? Did that mysterious sensation of euphoric tingles travel up and down my spine? Drum roll, please …


The sounds were undeniably soothing, but the only physical reaction the video elicited was a stomach growl when the scraping of a potato peeler against the microphone made me crave mashed potatoes.

I would consider myself relatively sensitive to sounds in general, especially music. But surprisingly and disappointingly, listening to ASMR videos did not elicit the same goosebumps I get every time I listen to the “Kung Fu Panda” soundtrack.

I incorporated ASMR videos into my daily routine for the rest of the week, watching a different set of videos every night. My ears were treated to a wide variety of sounds, including the massaging of makeup brushes against microphones, the tapping of acrylic nails against wooden blocks and even the rubbing of marinating brushes against sheets of sandpaper.

When a video titled “My Dog Eats Popcorn for 2 Minutes Straight. -ASMR” failed to produce the anticipated tingling sensation, I began to worry that my ardent efforts were in vain. Although the sounds did evoke a sense of calm that contributed to the reduction of my stress levels, the stress-relieving effects only lasted until the end of each video.

On a particularly blessed night, I stumbled upon a video published by W Magazine in which actor Jake Gyllenhaal generates his own ASMR video. And although his gentle voice has the power to convince me to commit a felony, even his soft whispers were not enough to trigger any kind of sensory reaction apart from the occasional swoon.

Perhaps I subconsciously constructed a mental blockade that prevented me from feeling the bodily effects of ASMR, or maybe I simply belong to a percentage of the population who cannot experience the phenomenon.

The so-called spine-tingling reaction was not essential to the experience, however, and the mere act of taking a study break to listen to unconventionally pleasing sounds made me an unashamed ASMR convert.

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