As awareness of the ASMR phenomenon has gone more mainstream in recent years thanks to the internet, videos and entire channels dedicated to ASMR began to appear on YouTube, which is how I discovered the experience I had with my uncle had a name. It’s through these videos that both people who have had ASMR episodes in the past and tinglehead wannabes hope to replicate the experience.
“For me, something about when kids whisper, it’s, oh my god, it’s so relaxing,” says Desireé Hunnicutt, Aoki’s mother, who started watching ASMR videos in 2011. Hunnicutt says she was motivated to create the AMSR Toddler channel in order to help people. “I see comments where people are like, ‘Oh my goodness, I watch every night and it helps me fall asleep,’” she says. “To me that’s perfect, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The uncharted territory isn’t what people experience, Richard says, but how (some people are triggered through their own thoughts and memories; others through external sights, sounds or touch) and why. To help find answers, Allen and Richard’s team launched its first rudimentary ASMR research survey last month. It received more than 4,000 responses within the first 10 days.
To date, only one research paper has been published on the phenomenon. In March last year, Emma Barratt, a graduate student at Swansea University, and Dr Nick Davis, then a lecturer at the same institution, published the results of a survey of some 500 ASMR enthusiasts. “ASMR is interesting to me as a psychologist because it’s a bit ‘weird’” says Davis, now at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The sensations people describe are quite hard to describe, and that’s odd because people are usually quite good at describing bodily sensation. So we wanted to know if everybody’s ASMR experience is the same, and of people tend to be triggered by the same sorts of things.”
Few legitimate studies have been done on ASMR, and even fewer have discussed the link between it and frisson specifically. At this time[when?], much of the data on ASMR comes from primarily anecdotal sources. Although ASMR and frisson are "interrelated in that they appear to arise through similar physiological mechanisms", individuals who have experienced both describe them as qualitatively different, with different kinds of triggers. A 2018 fMRI study showed that the major brain regions already known to be activated in frisson are also activated in ASMR, and suggests that "the similar pattern of activation of both ASMR and frisson could explain their subjective similarities, such as their short duration and tingling sensation".