Smithsonian: "How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR" — "The burgeoning Internet phenomenon was so new, it didn’t even have a name. It was so strange and hard to describe that many people felt creepy trying. It resided at the outer edge of respectability: a growing collection of YouTube videos featuring people doing quiet, methodical activities like whispering, turning magazine pages and tapping their fingers. Some viewers reported that these videos could elicit the most pleasurable sensations: a tingling feeling at the scalp and spine, coupled with euphoria and an almost trance-like relaxation.
He posted earlier this year on the ASMR subreddit, calling for volunteers, and completed the study in May. First, he looked at how ASMR videos affected "normal people"—18 Dartmouth undergrads. "In the second study we selected only people we knew could reliably experience and report ASMR," he says. "For this we used 10 subjects, most of whom were people from the subreddit who could commute to Hanover, New Hampshire. In this second study we asked the participants to bring in videos that they knew would trigger their ASMR. They then watched the videos in an MRI, while indicating periods of ASMR with a button press."
"ASMR is not as odd as it sounds," said Burnie Burns, co-founder and chief creative officer of production company Rooster Teeth. "In the 90s we had CDs and audio tapes of rain forest sounds that many people used for relaxation purposes -- there just wasn't a fancy term to classify that media. Since online video has become a phenomenon, now we have a whole new generation of those kinds of ephemeral experiences created by people all over the world."
In a 2012 blog post, Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, compared ASMR to migraine headaches — “We know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” he wrote — and theorized that ASMR could even be a type of “pleasurable” seizure.
Nothing can currently be definitively known about any evolutionary origins for ASMR since the perceptual phenomenon itself has yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlations. Even so, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has led to the conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.
I wonder if I have this ASMR thing too. The only thing that I don’t have in common like the rest, is audio. I only get this feeling, this “head-orgasm feeling,” when someone or something touches, like a kitten’s whiskers, a feather or someone’s hand, the side of my temples or near my ears. This feeling is very difficult to describe. When this happens I automatically close my eyes, I smile involuntarily and I get this tingling sensation all over my head. It’s a really good feeling too. Also, I’m not sure if it goes through the rest of my body like the rest of you, because I guess I’m feeling this sensation and I’m unaware of it. I remember when I was little I would get this feeling when I would play with a cat and they would head-bud my face and this feeling happened. I wasn’t sure what it was and was afraid that someone would see me making my face doing the “involuntarily closing my eyes and smiling” thing. So, I try to snap out of it as fast as I could… my question is, is this the same thing? Do I have ASMR?
Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those like the sound of rain, fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crushing of eggshells, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, or writing. Many YouTube videos that are intended to trigger ASMR responses capture a single person performing these actions and the sounds that result.