Dutch biology student and ASMR artist shares her views on the evolutionary origin of ASMR

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response UniversityJolien Morren has her Bachelor’s degree in Marine biology and Ecology & Evolution and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Biology and Science Communication and Society at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Jolien also creates ASMR videos for her YouTube channel, RelaxingSounds92, and for her blog, Sepiola.

I was very interested in talking with Jolien about ASMR after reading the subtitle of her blog, “Biologist and science communicator in the making, ASMR YouTuber, blogger”.

I knew she would have some valuable biological, evolutionary, and other related thoughts about ASMR.

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ASMR videos: relaxing or creepy?

The term “creepy” is often used by individuals to describe ASMR videos which they find disturbing.

This is curious to me.

Why is it that two individuals can watch the same video and one person feels relaxed by it and the other person feels creeped out by it?

And why is the word “creepy” so often used but never the word “frightening”?

There must be something common to a relaxing situation and to a creepy situation that is not common to a frightening situation.

And there is.

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ASMR, deep sleep, and GABA

I wrote a recent post about the potential involvement of the neurotransmitter GABA in ASMR.

Well, some scientists have recently published a study which has determined that GABA is responsible for deep sleep.

This means that if ASMR does raise GABA levels, then this neurotransmitter may help to explain how ASMR helps individuals to fall asleep and/or attain a deeper, more satisfying sleep.

The study was published in Nature Neuroscience, which validates the quality and importance of the research.

It is not a real surprise that GABA is involved in sleep.  It has been known for a while that GABA is very good at getting neurons to quiet down.

So what did this study specifically determine?

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The potential involvement of GABA in ASMR

It has been widely reported that many individuals find ASMR helpful to reducing their anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

If there was one neurotransmitter that was known to reduce all three of these disorders then it might be appropriate to theorize the involvement of that neurotransmitter in ASMR.

Well, the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) may be a terrific candidate.

GABA is a neurotransmitter that is widely released throughout the brain.  It is well understood to have an inhibitory effect on most neurons.  Another way to view this is that GABA tends to calm, comfort, and soothe other neurons.

Is GABA involved in treating anxiety disorders?  Yes.  Drugs like Xanax and Valium are benzodiazepines which are anti-anxiety medications.  These kind of drugs reduce anxiety by enhancing the effect of the patient’s natural amounts of GABA.

Is GABA involved in treating sleep disorders?  Yes.  Benzodiazepines are also widely used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.

So are benzodiazepines widely used for depression?  No.  The most common type of medication used to treat depression are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).  These drugs increase the amount of the patient’s natural amount of serotonin.

So GABA has not been viewed strongly as being involved in the therapeutic role of SSRIs for depression.

But a recent research publication in the journal Science challenges that view.

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