It is always a challenge trying to explain ASMR to others.
Especially when there does not seem to be another bodily sensation that can be helpful to compare ASMR to.
But perhaps there is.
And similar to ASMR, many people have never heard of it.
The sensation is called “mittelschmerz”.
Mittelschmerz is the pain felt in the abdomen by some women when an egg is released from a healthy ovary each month. These women can physically feel the initiation and/or process of ovulation.
Now let’s compare mittelschmerz with ASMR.
Obviously there are some key differences. Mittelschmerz is a pain sensation and ASMR is more of a relaxing pleasure sensation. Mittelschmerz is a sensation that may be felt only by women and ASMR does not yet seem to be gender specific.
So these two sensations are not perfectly similar, but do keep reading for some important commonalities that may help others (or you) to understand ASMR a bit better (especially commonality #3).
Commonality #1: Individuals that experience these sensations may not know it has a specific name.
You may be a female reading this post right now and thinking, “there is a name for that pain I feel in my abdomen during ovulation?!”
Similarly, most of you who experience ASMR remember the day you thought, “there is a name for those relaxing tingles I feel in my head?!”
Commonality #2: Most individuals probably don’t experience these sensations.
About 15-25% of women experience mittelschmerz.
Similarly, I would not be surprised if 15-25% of people experience ASMR, even though this has not been appropriately researched and reported yet.
Commonality #3: Most individuals do experience the underlying cause of these sensations. And this comparison is the main reason I wrote this post. Both of these events are sensations felt by a minority but are associated with an underlying physiology that is happening in the majority.
The majority of women of reproductive age ovulate on a monthly basis, and they don’t feel any strong sensations associated with it in an obvious and conscious way. Ovulation is a regularly occurring inflammatory process that does involve molecules that mediate pain and swelling. But mittelschmerz is when something happens to result in the person being able to feel that inflammation process.
Similarly, I believe the majority of individuals are slightly relaxed by someone speaking in a calm, slow, and gentle manner, and they don’t feel any strong sensations associated with it in an obvious and conscious way. Feeling relaxed is just another way of saying that someone is not feeling alarmed. There is no major sensation with not feeling alarmed and not being alarmed when a stranger interacts with you involves molecules that mediate relaxation, . But ASMR is when something happens to result in the person being able to feel those molecules that mediate the relaxation process, they are feeling it in such a heightened way that it results in tingles, comfort, sleepiness, and perhaps even heightened trust.
Commonality #4: Unknown causes for both sensations.
The cause of mittelschmerz does have some strong theories and minor research support. Ovulation is well understood to be an inflammatory process that involves increased blood flow and swelling. The main theories for mittelschmerz mostly support an anatomical basis (swelling presses on adjacent structures) or a leaking blood basis (leaking blood initiates the pain). Ultimately the current research does not fully explain the cause of mittelschmerz for every woman who experiences it. Additional causes could include increased production of, or sensitivity to, molecules that mediate pain (like prostaglandins).
Similarly, I think the cause of ASMR for some individuals will be increased production of, or sensitivity to, molecules that mediate relaxation (like oxytocin).
Commonality #5: Not a lot of research completed on either one.
A search for “mittelschmerz” in pubmed returned only one related articles published in the past 10 years (but 19 articles total since 1948).
Similarly, a search for “autonomous sensory meridian response” in pubmed returned only one related article (and that is the total).
I do hope that research publications on ASMR in the next 10 years can surpass the total amount of research publications on mittelschmerz completed in the past 60 years.
Sadly for both sensations, that is not a lofty challenge.
Click HERE to read a 1982 short research article in the British Medical Journal on mittelschmerz
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