Over the last few months I’ve found, in the weird corners of the Internet (Boing Boing, Vice, NPR), occasional references to ASMR – autonomous sensory meridian response. It is, to quote the Vice article, “a tingle in your brain, a kind of pleasurable headache that can creep down your spine [...] a shortcut to a blissed-out meditative state that allows you to watch long videos that for someone who doesn’t have ASMR are mind-meltingly dull.” I stumbled across it on YouTube while looking for meditation/visualization videos, realized it wasn’t for me, then left it by the wayside. But it keeps coming up.
Here’s where I get tripped up: every article I’ve read on the subject refers to ASMR as “self-described” or “self-diagnosed.” The Wikipedia page calls it a claimed biological phenomenon. Boing Boing, citing the NPR segment, refers to it as “self-diagnosed” and links to a British professor who “doesn’t discount the possibility that it’s real.” There’s no outright skepticism, but everyone who reports on it seems to stand in the doorway, one hand on the frame, their mouth half-open and their head cocked.
From a certain perspective, though, isn’t every pleasure/pain phenomenon self-reported? Isn’t this why ERs still use 1-10 pain scales on admission forms, rather than hooking patients up to the agonometer and taking a reading? If thousands of people are independently claiming to get totally high on the sound of someone brushing a towel over a microphone, why qualify it as “apparent”? Do reporters think they’re lying?