Auditory-tactile synesthesia

The term ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ (ASMR) is a neologism for a claimed biological phenomenon, characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation often felt in the head, scalp or peripheral regions of the body in response to various visual and auditory stimuli.

The phenomenon was first noted through internet culture such as blogs and online videos. Tom Stafford, a professor at the University of Sheffield, says ‘It might well be a real thing, but it’s inherently difficult to research.’

The term ASMR was first used in 2010 in by Jennifer Allen (under the alias ‘Envelope Nomia’ on Facebook), creator of the group, in response to SteadyHealth forum postings by people discussing the largely unknown sensation. ‘Autonomous’ pertains to the idiosyncrasy involved the experience, since the nature of the response varies from person to person. The term meridian was claimed to be a less explicit word for orgasm. Some alternative names for ASMR include Attention Induced Head Orgasm, Attention Induced Euphoria, and Attention Induced Observant Euphoria. The pleasant tingling or buzzing sensations felt in the head can be triggered by hearing people whispering.

An article about the ‘chills’ phenomenon induced by specific moments in a musical piece mentions distinctions made by users on the Reddit section for ASMR to distinguish the valence between ASMR and cold chill (also called frisson). Writer Sean T. Collins quoted Ohio State University professor David Huron, who teaches in the university’s School of Music, claiming ASMR and cold chill are different, ‘The [ASMR] effect is clearly strongly related to the perception of non-threat and altruistic attention,’ says Huron, who notes that there’s a strong similarity to physical grooming in primates. ‘Non-human primates derive enormous pleasure (bordering on euphoria) when being groomed by a grooming partner.’ And, says Huron, they groom each other not to get clean, but rather to bond with each other.

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