A new advertisement for the Super Bowl aims to calm football fans with strangely relaxing images of actress Zoe Kravitz whispering into a pair of microphones and gently tapping on a bottle.

Beer advertising, which has already attracted more than 10 million views, exposes a large audience to an Internet craze known as the ASMR, or sensory meridian self-response.

Some people spend hours watching hair brushing videos, folds of paper or "happy little clouds" artist Bob Ross, painting because they say it's theirs. Tease the brain. They report feeling rushed by subtle and repetitive images and sounds, but is it all in their heads?

Everyone does not feel ASMR. And so far, there is not enough evidence to recommend it as a standalone treatment for depression, anxiety, insomnia or any other problem that his fans claim to have solved.

But some scientists are trying to study ASMRs, and there is evidence that this could help. And if harm is done, it is not financial: it is usually free.

What is ASMR?

Most people agree that the sound of nails on a board is terribly unpleasant. The ASMR is described as an opposite feeling: a euphoric response that usually begins on the head and scalp and sometimes extends into the neck, arms or back.

Triggers include videos of someone turning pages in a book, pretending to pass an eye exam or tapping a collection of handbags.

Listening to these videos helps me calm down.- Robert Calaceto

Some call it a "cerebral orgasm", although most say it is not sexual. They say it's deeply relaxing, making it different from goose bumps or chills. The sensation helps some people to fall asleep.

"I'm going to feel my eyelids start to fall in. I'm going to feel a tingling sensation start at the top of my head and slowly descend from my neck to my shoulders up to my fingertips," said Robert Calaceto, an elderly 24, from Ridgewood, NJ. who uses it every night before going to bed and sometimes after work.

"Listening to these videos helps me calm down."

Craig Richard, author of Tingling of the brain and a professor from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., retraces the story of 2007: An article titled "Weird sensation feel good good" launched a conversation in an Internet forum on health.

A Facebook group and YouTube channels followed. From the beginning, participants shared their triggers: talking slowly or calmly, chewing noises, even cleaning teeth.

Today, millions of people subscribe to the content of the most popular ASMR artists. Advertisers use it for products such as Dove chocolate, Behr paint and IKEA. A haircut scene in the movie of 2017 Battle of the sexes was designed to elicit the answer. A live ASMR spa experience has been launched and performances are planned in New York and California.

Is it real?

A dozen research studies have been published. This is not much in the world of medical science.

In England, researchers at the University of Sheffield found something surprising by connecting 112 volunteers to electrodes to collect biophysical data in ASMR videos: the tappers seemed physically excited, but their heart rate slowed down.

It seems relatively harmless and free, which is wonderful.- Megan Papesh

Half of the volunteers were self-identified fans of the ASMR. Their heart rate decreased further – by about 3 beats per minute – compared to non-fencers who watched the same videos. Their bodies became more excited, compared to non-tappers, as measured by how their skin drove electricity.

In Canada, researchers at the University of Winnipeg conducted brain exams of 11 people with the observation syndrome antagonist and 11 other patients. Scientists measured areas of the brain that were shooting together when participants were lying in the scanner but did not watch any video.

In the brains of ASMR people, they saw unexpected "teams" of neurons firing, suggesting that normally separate networks were merged. It was as if "some Seahawks were trying to play outside for the Mariners," said Stephen Smith of the University of Winnipeg.

This could mean that ASMR is similar to synesthesia, a more well-known condition where people describe seeing music or numbers as specific colors.

Placebo effect

Researchers at Louisiana State University have tried to determine whether the power of suggestion influences people's reactions to ASMR audio clips. That was the case, but only for people who had never known ASMR before.

The study involved 209 volunteers, including ASMR fans recruited from the Reddit online forum. All have heard of the ASMR effect and have heard three audio clips.

Half said that audio clips were known to produce this effect. Others were told that none of the audio clips had been revealed as causing ASMR. Some clips were ASMR triggering sounds, such as whispers and tapping. Other clips were fake: screams and piano scales.

The encouraging instructions made a huge difference in those who had never experienced the ASMR before; they mostly felt tingling when told to wait for tingling.

But ASMR fans have not been fooled by fake or misleading instructions. They reported more tingling when they heard the legitimate ASMR sound, no matter what they were told in advance.

"In a way, it does not matter as long as the user feels the relief or the reduction of stress," said Megan Papesh, who led the study.

"It sounds relatively harmless and it's free, which is wonderful."

And after?

For the ASMR to be able to take root in traditional science, the craze must last long enough for researchers to know if it helps people suffering from stress or stress. other health problems. This kind of study is expensive and time consuming.

For now, Richard said that the best way to think about ASMR is "extra intimacy". It should not replace healthy relationships, but it can be used as a vitamin to improve mood.

A pleasant sensation caused by a soft voice, a watchful look, a gentle disposition, a light touch and soothing movements of the hands – "it's something we were born with," he said, " and its purpose is to soothe and comfort. "

It could even be educational.

"I think it helps to teach people the feeling of a healthy relationship," Richard said. "You can make people learn for the first time what a healthy relationship looks like from an ASMR video."

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Scientific Education. The Good Medical is solely responsible for all content.