2013/06/16

ASMR and social grooming

In previous posts I described a theory of ASMR (check out the ASMR theory tag on the right side of this page); my conclusion is that ASMR is primarly drived by triggers' precision, which leads us to a state of physical and mental stillness: a condition whose importance is often ignored in the West, but widely recognized by traditional cultures. Now it's time to look at a phenomenon which can sometimes lead to ASMR: grooming.

Note: linking ASMR to biology may sound strange, as I previously supported a theory which explains this phenomenon in terms of acoustics and brain waves. But as I said before, physics and biology here are not colliding; they're nothing but different points of view, from which we look at the same phenomenon.

Social grooming

Grooming is - according to etologists - the way members of some animal species take care of each other, primarly for igienic purposes; in some species, however, grooming becomes an important social activity. The main feature of social grooming is to establish a bond between the animals (or the people) engaged in this activity.

Social grooming in macaques

If you ever experienced grooming with a friend or partner, you'll know that it's very sweet and pleasant - sometimes almost healing - both in physical and psychological terms; anyway, why does it lead to ASMR? Let's start saying that this doesn't happen all the times: to enter the ASMR zone you need to receive triggers - just like you do when you watch and listen ASMR videos and sounds - regardless of the importance you assign to this practice and to the person who's grooming you.

This makes me think, once again, that ASMR isn't necessarily connected with a spiritual meaning: despite the undeniable aspects of sweetness, trust and intimacy underlying the bond grooming creates, the way ASMR works stays the same and keeps it simple: action (trigger) and reaction (tingle). This obviously doesn't lessen the importance of this practice, and may be considered just a positive side effect.

Social grooming in cats

Extensive grooming

Social grooming is a very specific task; in a broader sense, other activities - while performed by strangers - are actually forms of grooming, and it's not a coincidence that they're on the top list of ASMR triggers. The first example is massage; even in this case the ASMR effect is not directly connected to the task, and it only takes place when a massage is "tingle-oriented" by purpose, or by a lucky accident.

Another form of grooming - which is very popular in ASMR role plays - is hair caring and cutting. This is probably the easiest way to achieve ASMR when performed live, and I think it's so successful on YouTube videos thanks to visual association: you watch videos starring whisperers hair-caring you, this puts you in the right psychophysical state, you hear the trigger of scissors cutting hair - and you're just a whisper away from tingles.

Other grooming activities - though in an extensive meaning - are custom tailoring and medical examining: you will notice that they're not only related to the idea of caring, but also with the concept of precision. The latter is required in a strong form to get this kind of work done: therefore, whisperers have to be very precise when acting, tapping and so on, to give you the realistic impression of actually getting that treatment.

ASMR and the brain

The reason why I think grooming can lead to ASMR is that it directly affects our brains; besides positive effects on indeed important things (like stress response), social grooming stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, an hormone connected to opioid receptors, well-known painkillers. While this definitely helps explaining the reason why grooming is so pleasant - and healthy, actually - it's even a good clue of the role ASMR does play in our wellness.

At this point it's important to make a statement: ASMR is a very particular phenomenon, not only by its nature, but even by the way it rises. Usually we experiment two kind of effects on ourselves: forced effects (like an impact with something that hurts us) and looked-for effects (like trying to relax). ASMR stays in the middle: you can't be forced to experiment it - lucky for us! - but you don't need to go through a complicated process (like spiritual ascesis) to get it: you're exposed to the right triggers, and you're done.

I want to point out that ASMR is a very powerful force: in the short term, it makes us feel good; but in the long term, we still have to see what it's capable of. The regular and repeated experience of ASMR may benefit us in ways we still don't understand; we already know that a good hormonal balance can widely affect our wellness, but there is more, and it's up to us to find out what.

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