The Science bit

8 Jan 2019

I spent a very pleasant twenty minutes recently watching a video of a woman folding towels neatly, while giving instructions how to do this in a very soft whisper. "For pity sake, get a life you sad woman" I hear you cry. Bear with me, this was done in the pursuit of scientific research.

This came about as a result of the daily tutorial with Spock. Every Christmas among his presents I get him subscriptions to scientific journals. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving, as every morning over breakfast he imparts bits of information to me. I am so lucky. After the last bit of muesli has been eaten, he lays down his spoon, puts his fingers into a steeple, and he's off. Over the years, odd bits of knowledge have lodged in my brain, I could very possibly blag a brief conversation on Einsteins's Theory, provided the other party knew damn all. Generally I pretend to listen, thinking lovely thoughts about puppies gambolling with unicorns, while he witters on about black holes, string theory, gravitational waves etc.

For once though, something he said brought me out of my reverie. "...and they are typically very introverted and extremely neurotic, now who does that remind me of? HaHaHa!"

Have you heard about a strange condition known as Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)? No, me neither. It seems these folk experience a deeply enjoyable tingling sensation that starts at the back of the scalp, going down into the shoulders, when appropriate triggers arise. It is described as being a fuzzy, trance-like state. The nearest experience I can relate to is the head-tingling, dizzy, sick feeling that comes with migraine - far from pleasurable.

Those who have ASMR tend to be introverted, neurotic and unreliable. I am easily two of these, so I was keen to find out more. Investigators found the four most popular triggers are whispering, receiving personal attention, slow movement and light sharp sounds, like tapping fingernails. Brain scans suggest that neurological pathways linked to emotional bonding are involved. One scientist likens it to the effects of mutual grooming among great apes. Indeed, one woman said she first experienced ASMR when she was a child, and her mother would brush her long hair, while singing to her.

This is where the towels come in. The video I watched has had 2 million viewings. People with ASMR who were shown this responded very quickly, even to the extent that hearing a description of the content will set them off. Another video of a man doing oil painting apparently has the same effect, with millions of viewings.

So I settled down to watch the American lady folding towels. I clearly don't have ASMR (I would have known long ago if I had) there was no obvious altered state or feeling pure bliss, but I did find it simply lovely to watch and listen to, very pleasurable in a strange way. I am obviously not alone, as more of these videos are appearing. It is A Thing. I certainly intend watching it again, and, laugh all you like, I might even fold some towels at the same time. I had hypnotherapy years ago for dental phobia, and this reminded me of those sessions, key words repeated, a quiet, slightly sing-song delivery. It could be described as mildly meditational.

Maybe you have ASMR, or know someone who does? Apparently most people with the condition are very embarrassed, feel like freaks. If you get the chance to watch one of the videos, I would be most interested to know if you felt anything unusual happening to your nervous system. In the U.K. scientists at Sheffield University and Cambridge are carrying out research, and could be interested to meet you. At the very least, your linen cupboard will never have been so tidy.


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