ASMR: The Science of Sensations

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By CW Headley

I’ve been a chronic insomniac for about six years. I’ve never really responded to psychiatric treatment, so I’m always sifting through the provisional purported hacks for achieving relaxation. The latest phenomenon is one made popular by YouTube and a few high-profile campaigners – most recently Zoe Kravitz. It’s called ASMR, and it’s currently headlining the science of sensation.

ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is the low-grade-euphoria accompanied by tingling sensations triggered by auditory stimuli–you might have found your cyber jaunts interrupted by vaguely disturbing thumbnails of people in their mid-twenties caressing pans or fingering hair brushes- Don’t worry I’ll steer clear of pejoratives. The only fresh take available as far as ASMR is concerned, is an objective one.

The community, made up of more than one million subscribers, is frequently reduced to being little more than a mob of vapid-fad-junkies. Up until very recently, their claim that they possess the apparently rare ability to be lulled to serenity by commonplace sounds, like whispers or the chorus of running water, has largely been matched by parody and indifference.

In preparation for this exploration of the potential sleep aid, I gave ASMR a whirl and dissected the triune of its most popular forms.

The science behind ASMR
Back in 2018, the University of Sheffield pioneered an in-depth study of the potential health benefits of ASMR. They found that those able to experience the sensation (self-dubbed tingle heads) had significantly stabler heart rates than those that could not. Additionally, this group exhibited elevated feelings of relaxation and social connection.

On the boosts to mood suggested by the study, Psychologist Dr. Poerio comments:

“This was reflected in ASMR participants’ self-reported feelings and objective reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants. What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness.”

Casey Kleczec, of The Science of Us, published a piece advocating ASMR as a tangible remedy for anxiety and depression. She begins, gracefully, by walking us through her pre-sleep ritual. She sings Irish ballads to her young daughter, beguiling her into a balmy slumber. This mention, no doubt, is meant to repudiate the supposed novelty of the subtly of sounds having an effect on our moods. She continues, by juxtaposing this anecdote with a description of her own sleep comforts. She puts in headphones, lies down next to her husband then listens to an ASMR role-play performed by YouTuber Gentle Whispering ASMR. In the video, the channel’s star Maria Viktorovna does Kleczec’s make up, whispering soft comforts withal. The video ends, sending Kleczec fast to sleep.

This was a rousing advertisement for my own venture. I began by simply typing the word ASMR into Google-videos. Before I could determine the degree of effectiveness, I needed to be aware of any distinctions. My cursory research detected three principal genres,

The first, and seemingly most popular has widely been attributed to the late Bob Ross.

Video of subject engaging in an ostensibly mundane activity, whilst whispering comforting nothings. I watched one of a guy drawing catfish with a fountain pen. Each stroke came with detail about his day and the occasional rumbling of bottled ink. Though I can’t say the video triggered the warm, quasi-orgasm described by the many votaries of the trend, I did find it to be undoubtedly soothing.

The second breed of ASMR video rivals the popularity of the first and is itself furnished with plenty of further sub-secs. The ASMR role-play, described by Kleczec, features a performer either taking on the role of some kind of professional (think dentist, hairdresser, nail stylist) or some kind of intimate kinship – most commonly significant other though sometimes fictional character. I rummaged through a few of these and found them to be the least effective. To me, the best of them were sort of dull, and the worst seemed a little cynical and opportunistic.

The third notable kind of ASMR video populating YouTube can only be described as unintentional ASMR videos. These are collections usually pulled from the past, long before ASMR had either a name or a fan base, and feature naturally soft-spoken individuals speaking at length about a wide range of things. I got into these in a big way.

There’s one video in particular of an elderly English woman giving a lesson on posture-pure morpheme. It would be boring in another context but the deliberate speech and tedious subject matter produced an oddly hypnotic effect. The effective reframing is very fascinating.

I asked a colleague of mine about her use of ASMR as a sleep aid, specifically the physical responses she notices if any, she stated: “I don’t really think of it as some magical thing. It’s relaxing the same way anything that isn’t unpleasant is relaxing. I think I like the idea of simulated stability. That’s what helps me sleep the most. The steady sound of a faucet distracts me from my own hectic thoughts.”

The research on determining if ASMR is a thing biologically achievable by everyone is scarce, to say the least, but its growing popularity demands an intellectual inquiry.


The Neuroscience of Romance: Your Brain on Love

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By Sabrina Stierwalt

The Neuroscience of Romance: Your Brain on Love

Falling in love seems to be a basic part of human nature. It’s universalwe all know what love is even if we have a hard time defining it or detailing its complexities. And love transcends cultural and societal differences: in a historical study of 166 societies, anthropologist Helen Fisher found evidence that feelings of love existed in 147 of them. Thus, it appears we are not taught that love is important to us, but rather may be born knowing it.

But anyone who has ever been in love knows that love is complicated. Being in love can calm you down but it can also make you anxious. In our attempts to understand how the human brain works, neuroscientists have studied for decades what the complex mix of emotions we call love does to our brain. Can love cause us to lose focus? Is being in love addicting? And can science weigh in on the question of whether or not love can last?

Let’s find out today.

Our Brains See Love as a Reward

In a 2005 study, researchers compared functional MRI images of the brains of 2,500 college students while looking at someone they love relative to looking at an acquaintance. Scientists were thus able to map which regions of the brain are active when a person is experiencing feelings of love. They saw the most activity in two regions associated with seeking and detecting rewards, namely the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area. These regions are also responsible for an increased production of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that pass information from one neuron to the next. In the case of dopamine, that information is a signal to the brain that the person is feeling happy and finds the current activity rewarding.

Love Can Be Addicting

The increase in dopamine levels can act as a high or even inspire a state of euphoria when around the object of affection. In an effort to continue that lover’s high, you may find yourself wanting to be around the other person all of the time.

The part of our brain that processes attraction, often a precursor to love, is known as the opioid center and is, as you may have guessed, the same region responsible for our response to certain addictive substances including opioids like morphine. For example, in one, albeit smaller, study, a group of 30 men were given either small doses of morphine or a dose of an opioid suppressor. Those given the opioid rated attractive faces more highly and spent more time looking at them, suggesting that our brains can be primed to find others attractive by first stimulating the right region of the brain.

Also running high in love-addled brains are adrenaline, which can make your heart beat faster and your palms sweaty, and vasopressin, which triggers territorial feelings of loyalty and the need to protect. However…

How Pulling An All-Nighter Affects Your Brain

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By Cory Stieg


When your body says, “sleep,” but your anxietysays, “not until you finish this project,” sometimes your mind gets the best of you. The next thing you know, it’s morning, and you’ve pulled an all-nighter. Whether you’re a student, a busy parent, a burnt-out employee, or some combination of all of those things, chances are you’ve been in this situation.
The morning after an all-nighter, you feel like a shell of yourself: it’s harder to concentrate, make decisions, respond to impulses, and think creatively when you’re sleep deprived. From a scientific standpoint, this all makes sense, because your body needs sleep to function, even down to a cellular level.
A 2015 study in the journal PLOS One showed that a night of missed sleep can lead to structural changes in the brain. Another 2017 study out of the University of California Los Angeles found that sleep deprivation disrupts brain cells’ ability to communicate, which is why you experience so many “mental lapses” after a sleepless night. The hormone cortisol also follows a specific pattern overnight, but without sleep, cortisol can’t drop, and your body will feel confused the next day. And finally, we also know based on animal studies that, over time, sleep deprivation can increase buildup of a protein that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease. So, sleep is a pretty big deal.
A good night’s sleep is a reset process for the brain and body the next day, says Alexis Halpern, MD, emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Sleep allows the body’s cells to reenergize, and the brain to clear waste and toxins from the day, and make space for memories and learning,” she says. Most of the time, pulling an all-nighter is not worth it, because you’ll feel both miserable and moody the next day. But sometimes, an all-nighter really is necessary.
As an emergency medicine doctor, Dr. Halpern has experience staying up all night to work a night shift in the ER. She believes you can never really “catch up” on sleep, but there are a few things she does it make her necessary all-nighters less miserable. The day before an overnight, Dr. Halpern will sleep as late as possible into the afternoon, then try to do some light exercise to get her body energized. “I eat light meals, and I only drink coffee right before I go in,” she says. “I definitely avoid a heavy dinner and make sure to bring a lot of snacks — preferably healthy, because a sugar rush overnight leads to a terrible crash at a time the body wants to be asleep.” Afterwards, she’ll come home and sleep until the afternoon, then try to go to bed at a normal time.
While the health effects of shift work are complex, Dr. Halpern says it can take a few days to get back on track with a sleep schedule like hers. Even so, she doesn’t recommend pulling an all-nighter if you have the choice. No matter how stressed you are, it’s important to remember that sleep is more than just a break from your work, it’s a complex and necessary biological process. Bottom line: You’re probably better off doing a little less work and getting a little more sleep, she says.

Your Identity Is Almost Entirely Based On Unconscious Brain Processes

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We often think that our deeply held beliefs, opinions, and emotions are the result of a long time spent thinking. We see ourselves as an executive of sorts somewhere inside our own head, pondering, making plans, and coming to decisions. This is what is known as a top-down model of executive control. It isn’t only laypeople who think this way, but scientists and scholars, many anyway. This has been the prevailing theory for decades.

Most experts see human consciousness as a combination of two different phenomena. The first is the consciousness we experience from one moment to the next. That’s knowing who and where in the world we are. It’s also the ability to evaluate things, and calculate opportunities and threats. The second is our thoughts, feelings, impressions, intentions, and memories. So here’s the innovation, a 2017 paper published in Frontiers of Psychology says that actually, our thoughts and feelings are developed by unconscious mechanisms behind our logical thoughts.

We don’t so much come to conclusions on things as become aware of how we feel. In fact, researchers write that the “contents of consciousness” are completely unrelated to the “experience of consciousness.” The contents of consciousness are derived from “non-conscious brain systems.” In fact, study authors write that “personal awareness is analogous to the rainbow which accompanies physical processes in the atmosphere but exerts no influence over them.”