Some nights, before I go to sleep, I listen to ASMR videos on Youtube. It helps me empty my head of thoughts, or at least slow my thinking and unfocus it. Typical ASMR videos include soft whispering or tactile stimuli, which are intended to trigger a pleasurable response in the brain. When mine triggers, I feel a tingling sensation in my scalp and I lapse into a relaxed and relieved state. I seem to receive stronger reactions watching women perform the triggering stimuli than men, and certain women seem to resonate more with me than others. My favorite is Russian woman named Maria Viktorovna who has a channel called GentleWhispering. She posts one or two videos every week. Usually they involve her whispering softly into a 3d microphone or tapping on different surfaces with her nails. This last week, however, she posted this really astonishing 20 minute video in which she tells the story of her life: about her growing up in Russia, coming to the United States, and her life here. The story has some very disturbing, very heart-breaking moments. Here, take a look.
It’s really disarming is to hear her describe these nightmarish things that have happened to her in her gentle ASMR voice. The empathy I feel towards her when she’s telling this story is overwhelming. If you go to the video page and look at the comments, you’ll see thousands of people completely crestfallen about what they’ve just heard. Some have been talking about starting charities for her and to try to help her out.
I wonder if people who are impervious to ASMR stimulation–and most are–react to this story in the same way? And as for those of us who are experiencing the sensation, are we reacting more compassionately than we otherwise would? It is believed, though it’s yet to be proven, that the ASMR reaction is a result of intense empathic connection and probably caused by a surge of serotonine in the brain provoked by a sense of intimacy. Maria Viktorovna’s videos only simulate this intimacy, but it seems to fool the thalamus just fine. Are the feelings we undergo when watching them something like simulated love?