For giving somebody the shivers, brushes are tools of choice. A January performance of Whisperlodge begins in a dimly lit Brooklyn living room, where a man and a woman dressed in white run fat makeup brushes in slow circles over another woman's bare ...
Video as a medium for A.S.M.R. may appeal to anxiety sufferers because the viewer is in full control. “The stranger in a video — they can’t harm you,” Dr. Richard said by phone. In his survey however, participants’ favorite stimulus is touch, something available only in person. For them, there’s Whisperlodge.
“Today I’d like to share this hairbrush with you,” Ms. Lauw said during the last of 12 January shows. Welcoming each audience member to a room bathed in soft, gold light, she perched on the edge of the bed and stroked the brush’s rubber bristles and wooden handle. Participants leave her room with hair thoroughly detangled and, perhaps, in a state of zombielike relaxation.
For those who don’t get “tingles,” watching someone caress the handle of a hairbrush would seem indisputably bizarre. Yet A.S.M.R. devotees aren’t hallucinating.
“It’s absolutely a real thing,” said Stephen Smith, a psychologist at the University of Winnipeg who has used fMRI machines to scan the brains of people who experience the sensation. He found neural networks firing differently in people who feel A.S.M.R. than in the general population. “It seems to be affecting so many different people, and for the most part it’s affecting them in a positive way.”
An ear-shaped microphone at Whisperlodge. Credit Stephen Speranza for The New York TimesIn YouTube comments, someone will occasionally ask whether A.S.M.R. videos are meant to be pornographic. After all, some fans refer to the feeling as a “brain orgasm,” and in videos beautiful women whisper softly to the camera. While porn may ultimately be in the eye of the beholder, viewers who use the videos for relaxation are adamant: their goal is the opposite of arousal. Dr. Richard finds the “orgasm” descriptor misleading. “The pleasure of A.S.M.R. is more like the warm comfort of sitting on a couch with a best friend, close family member or romantic partner,” he said by email. “You feel relaxed, carefree and safe.”
“Many of the videos seem intimate, although the intimacy appears to be more socially voyeuristic rather than sexually voyeuristic in nature,” Dr. Smith said. However, he added, if you dig into the online subculture of A.S.M.R., you can find the occasional not-safe-for-work video, which suggests there is a subset of the community that uses A.S.M.R. for sexual stimulation.
While there haven’t been studies to test the benefits of A.S.M.R., and performers aren’t licensed to administer tingles, Dr. Smith says the experience of it shares characteristics, like intense focus and relaxation, with meditation. A therapeutic application is not out of the question. “If I can understand more about how these people can experience positive emotions and relaxation, it provides us with more opportunities to design programs that will help people increase their well-being,” he said.
Perhaps future research will also reveal what makes a fake doctor’s visit soothing to some.
Chia Lynn Kwa, 26, a friend of Ms. Lauw’s and a graphic designer by day, played the physician in January’s Whisperlodge, where she stroked guests’ ears with a Q-tip and pretended to scan their body, using a buzzing electric toothbrush like a T.S.A. wand. She said audience members seemed at ease taking direction from an authority figure, even a pretend one.
“I think part of it is that a lot of people think it’s kind of comforting to just be told what to do,” Ms. Kwa said.
Touch (Sense),Psychology and Psychologists,Anxiety and Stress,Ears and Hearing,YouTube.com,Manhattan (NYC),Brooklyn (NYC),Whisperlodge,A.S.M.R.