Bizarre Role-Playing Trend: Soothing or Creepy?

Our brains are really, really weird. Once, I knew a guy who had synesthesia (the ability to taste or hear something when shown an image or a color) and I thought that was out of this world. I kept showing him different pictures of Lady Gaga and asking what he was tasting (Taco Bell, lemon tart, and Milky Way). But the brain fun doesn’t stop there. Apparently, there’s this quasi-newly discovered neurological phenomenon, and it’s been sort of popular in certain internet k-hole communities.

This strange brain sensation is called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. It’s “characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli.” If you’re like me, and didn’t absorb that sentence right away because WHAT-THE-HELL, check this video out. You get the richest experience with some good headphones. It starts out with this soft-spoken man asking you if you would like your face painted. Skip to 1:43; that’s when he starts brushing the camera with his paintbrush.

I literally had goosebumps. But I felt kind of calm at the same time. Is this a good feeling, or a bad feeling? His voice is so soothing! But he’s talking to a camera and painting a rainbow on an imaginary face! I don’t know how I feel. Relaxed? Confused? Both? Basically, this whole thing is like Bob Ross painting your face.

ASMR surfaced in 2008 on discussion boards, like Yahoo’s “Society of Sensationalists” and blogs such as “The Unnamed Feeling” in 2010. These communities discussed the feelings they experienced under certain conditions and shared ideas to provoke and enhance these feelings. Other names for ASMR include: “brain orgasm,” “brain massage,” “spine tingle,” and my personal favorite, “braingasm,” which is something I personally get while reading Jonathan Franzen, but to each his own.

So, what you watched above is ASMR role-playing. There are a ton of YouTube recordings of people whispering, pretending to give hair-cuts, applying make-up, and cleaning ears. For many, this supposedly relieves insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks. People have debated whether this role-playing is subconsciously sensual, but according to Ohio State University’s music professor, David Huron, ASMR is much like grooming your partner in order to bond. It’s meant to be calming.

Here is another example of ASMR. This one features a girl giving her viewer a make-over.

Scientists are inconclusive about ASMR, and many are skeptical. The YouTube hits say otherwise though. Some psychiatrists support the legitimacy of ASRM and compare it to meditation; the soft-spoken videos help calm the anxious parts of our brains. However, some sleep specialists advise not to get hooked on ASMR and insist it “may become a habit similar to using a white noise machine or a baby using a pacifier for falling asleep.” But what’s more dangerous: Ambien or a nice lady whispering while giving you a pretend make-over?

What do you think, guys? Do you feel more relaxed or are you just straight up creeped out? I gave it a shot, but I think I’ll stick with yoga.

Featured image via, Bob Ross image via