Popular triggers for ASMR include someone playing with your hair, cutting your hair, stroking your arm, drawing words on your back with their finger (back writing game), and/or examining you for health concerns (clinical exams).
What do all these strong triggers for ASMR have in common?
Being touched lightly has been perceived as pleasurable for a while. In contrast, the biological understanding of these pleasant sensations has only recently begun to be understood – and may help to understand ASMR.
The nerve type responsible for transmitting the pleasant sensations of light touch was first confirmed to exist in humans in 1988. These nerves are called C tactile nerves (AKA tactile C nerves, fibers, or afferents).
These C tactile nerves are located in skin areas which contain hair, and transmit pleasant sensations when stimulated with slow and gentle stroking by items such as finger tips or soft brushes.
Or put in a simpler way, it is this same nerve type that makes cats purr with glee in response to being petted.
Basically, animals enjoy being groomed. But not just by anyone. The grooming or light touching is most enjoyable when done by someone we trust and love.
Some scientists have even recently proposed the, “C Tactile Affective Touch Hypothesis” to highlight the importance of these neurons in social bonding.
But what is in it for the groomer? Many of us enjoy having our hair played with or our skin touched lightly, but is there any joy for the groomer?
I am sure lots of people would provide anecdotal support that they enjoy grooming someone or touching someone lightly, but science always wants controlled experiments, peer-reviewed data and published evidence.
And sure enough, some scientists have recently published an article concluding that people enjoy touching others lightly and the touching involves emotional sharing between the individuals.
The aforementioned article does not discuss the involvement of oxytocin, but I suspect this hormone will be shown to be involved with the pleasure and emotional sharing transmitted via light touch.
So how does all of this apply to ASMR?
It certainly does not explain ASMR which is stimulated by sounds, sights, smells, or meditation. But it may provide a clear pathway for how light touch can stimulate ASMR.
Preliminary data from our study is showing a trend that the strongest ASMR may be stimulated by light touch. This may mean that these other methods of stimulating ASMR (e.g. sounds, sights, smells, and thoughts) may have developed later and tap into the same areas in the brain which are stimulated by light touch.
But of course, this is conjecture and will require lots of controlled experiments, peer-reviewed data and published evidence to reveal the actual biology of ASMR.
Click HERE to read a scientific review article about C Tactile nerves.
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