As for what can trigger episodes in people, it almost always involves close interaction with another person. Usually, that other person is speaking to you in soft or deep tones, and always kindly. There’s usually also a component of adjacent sound coming from an inanimate object that, in conjunction with a person’s voice, helps trigger the episode. This can be the sound of scissor blades scraping together during a haircut, the sound of someone turning magazine pages, or, in my case, the sound of pennies sliding across concrete.
Scientists don’t know enough about the phenomenon to know if everyone can become a tinglehead, or if only people who have brains wired a certain way can. In my personal experiences with ASMR, it happened most powerfully–but rarely–when talking to my uncle. However, I have also experienced less powerful ASMR episodes when getting a haircut, an eye exam, and occasionally when conversing with a significant other while we relaxed in bed.
However, Tony Ro, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said in an email that the University of Winnipeg study “is unfortunately not as revealing or informative as it could have been,” given its small size and the fact that researchers were measuring subjects at rest, rather than while experiencing ASMR. The resting state differences could be due to other factors, like higher rates of anxiety or depression, he says. Still, writes Ro, who researches synesthesia and has also been intrigued by ASMR for a few years, “I do think that ASMR may be a form of synesthesia.”
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.
In addition to the effectiveness of specific auditory stimuli, many subjects report that ASMR is triggered by the receipt of tender personal attention, often comprising combined physical touch and vocal expression, such as when having their hair cut, nails painted, ears cleaned, or back massaged, whilst the service provider speaks quietly to the recipient. Furthermore, many of those who have experienced ASMR during these and other comparable encounters with a service provider report that watching an "ASMRtist" simulate the provision of such personal attention, acting directly to the camera as if the viewer were the recipient of a simulated service, is sufficient to trigger it.