Think about nails scratching a chalkboard for one second. Are you flinching? One study found that this sound literally accelerated the participants’ stress levels, quickening heart rates, heightening blood pressure and even altering the skin’s electrical conductivity. In the study, the scientists discovered that—when stimulated with this screeching sound, the auditory cortex interacted with the amygdala, which controls responses related to fear and emotions.
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 first study to perform actual brain imaging (fMRI) on subjects currently experiencing ASMR tingles (as opposed to individuals who were merely able to experience the phenomenon) was published in BioImpacts in September 2018. Subjects viewed several ASMR videos with a screen and headphones while inside the MRI scanner. The study found a significant difference in brain activation between time periods when the subject reported tingling (communicated by pressing a button), as compared to time periods when they were watching a video but not reporting tingling (communicated by pressing a different button, to control for brain activation effects caused by merely pressing a button). They concluded that "the brain regions found most active during the tingling sensations were the nucleus accumbens, mPFC, insula and secondary somatosensory cortex", and suggested that these were similar to "activation of brain regions previously observed during experiences like social bonding and musical frisson".[29]

The left side of Makenna Kelly’s bedroom is just like any other child’s. Her silver and white bedspread matches a feature wall, she has a dresser with her own TV and her nickname – “Kenna” – is spelled out in wooden letters above the window. On the right side of her room, however, things are less ordinary. There are three professional studio lights and a tripod, a silver plaque congratulating her on 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a framed letter from Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO. Sellotaped on the closet door is the fan mail.


It seems bizarre that people would spend any amount of time watching a person play with what amounts to DIY Play-Doh, but these videos are hugely popular—and it may have something to do with a phenomenon known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The condition usually causes a relaxing tingling in a person’s scalp and the back of their neck, and can extend into the rest of the body in response to particular sounds, smells, or visuals, according to the ASMR Lab.

Even if the Internet has led researchers to the discovery of a previously unknown sensory phenomenon, there are still plenty of challenges ahead. There are many unanswered questions, like why only certain people experience ASMR, what percentage of the population they make up, and whether those who never have can be triggered to experience it. More immediately, there’s the ever-present challenge of getting funding to better understand an experience that still raises skepticism. Smith says that the term ASMR still “comes across as a little bit new-agey in the scientific world.”

ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is still a relatively new creation. It describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds. What kind of visual or audio clips can create such a lovely feeling? It might surprise you, but the videos are of people doing incredibly simple, quiet, calming tasks, such as folding towels, brushing their hair, or flipping magazine pages. You might hear someone’s voice speaking in the background of the video, but not always. The audio clips often consist of voices whispering nice things (like "You are appreciated"), or contain the sound of tapping, scratching, or rain.
So how do you know if you have ASMR? There’s no single way to tell for sure, but for starters, you can watch some of the internet’s most popular videos and determine whether they elicit a tingling response. And for your convenience, we’ve compiled some of the best ASMR videos that YouTube has to offer—so get those goose bumps ready, and while you’re at it, try these brain teasers to find out whether you’re smarter than an astronaut.
It seems bizarre that people would spend any amount of time watching a person play with what amounts to DIY Play-Doh, but these videos are hugely popular—and it may have something to do with a phenomenon known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The condition usually causes a relaxing tingling in a person’s scalp and the back of their neck, and can extend into the rest of the body in response to particular sounds, smells, or visuals, according to the ASMR Lab.
On 12 March 2012, Steven Novella, Director of General Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, published a post about ASMR on his blog Neurologica. Regarding the question of whether ASMR is a real phenomeonon, Novella said "in this case, I don't think there is a definitive answer, but I am inclined to believe that it is. There are a number of people who seem to have independently experienced and described" it with "fairly specific details. In this way it's similar to migraine headaches – we know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history." Novella tentatively posited the possibilities that ASMR might be either a type of pleasurable seizure, or another way to activate the "pleasure response". However, Novella drew attention to the lack of scientific investigation into ASMR, suggesting that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation technologies should be used to study the brains of people who experience ASMR in comparison to people who do not, as a way of beginning to seek scientific understanding and explanation of the phenomenon.[39][40]
I’m a prematurely retired, disabled, UCLA med school trained pediatrician, due to a stroke and for me ASMR occurs only with music, but just what I call exquisite(level) music. Interestingly before my love for science, my first love was music, as an alto, tenor, and baritone sax player as a child. My experience is that it always is full body, at the onset, and sometimes is accompanied by a slight body warmth effect. It is always a very pleasant sensation, and does not always occur with these level of songs. Not maybe related, but I’ve become a sensation at party type celebrations, as people are amazed at my dancing skills without my quad cane, without much use of my limited right side of my body. They look at me in a crazed way when I tell them I really don’t consider it dancing, in the strictest sense, but it’s like the music and I are symbiotic, and I become the music so that my body just starts spontaneously moving in such a way they would not believe possible, with much improved balance, as people start to hoot, holler, clap and recording with their smart phones. I’m not putting on a show, just enjoying music at the highest level I know. I have always loved music intensely. Initially, I did what I call chair dancing, all upper body, for quite some time, after my stroke.
"As ASMR has started to come to mainstream attention, researchers have finally begun trying to answer that question. Neuroscientists are now experimenting with fMRIs and electroencephalography to see if the brains of 'tingleheads,' as they are called, are any different than those who don’t tremble at the sight of napkin-folding. They’ve also surveyed tens of thousands of people who say they experience the phenomenon. So far there are intriguing—if limited—findings suggesting that ASMR may relieve some people’s symptoms of stress and insomnia, and that the brains of those who experience it may be organized a little differently."
Last year, Rooster Teeth released the documentary "The World's Greatest Head Massage: An ASMR Journey," where filmmakers traveled to Pushkar, India to find Baba the Cosmic Barber. Unbeknownst to Baba, he had become a YouTube sensation after people had been uploading videos of his "cosmic energy" shaves and head massage techniques. Baba has since created his own YouTube channel, ASMR Barber, to take advantage of his popularity.
But the phenomenon has nonetheless burst into the mainstream, thanks to mounting media coverage and a few high-profile references: “Saturday Night Live” alum Molly Shannon gushed to Conan O’Brien about her “head orgasms,” induced by the methodical touch of airport security pat-downs; novelist Andrea Seigel shared her experience with ASMR on the radio program “This American Life” last year; the “Dr. Oz” show has featured ASMR videos as a way to ease insomnia.
I have repeatedly tried listening to ASMR YT videos, however, I have found them actually highly irritating and not calming. The whispering (extreme soft speaking) cause me great annoyance. You are right in that not all people respond to ASMR videos in the same manner. However, a back massage with calming music, listening to powerful worship music, dialogue of a spiritual nature, sitting by water and meditation on Scripture are triggers for this sensation.
“The reason people can get tingles and feel relaxed and comforted listening to Maria GentleWhispering is because she’s acting very much the way a parent would care for you,” he says, “with the caring glances, gentle speech and soothing hand movements. And a lot of the time she’s doing simulated touching. It’s pattern recognition. Our brains recognize the pattern of someone with a caring glance, someone with a gentle whisper, and we find that comforting.”
But it’s still a business, particularly for ASMRtists who hold to a strict programming schedule, solicit PayPal donations or offer one-on-one Skype sessions for a fee. Maria declined to specify her income but says that she holds a part-time administrative job and doesn’t earn enough from online ads to make a living off her videos alone — mainly because she doesn’t want her vlogging to become an obligatory burden. She’ll post a new video once per week or once per month, depending on how busy she is.

"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."


Over at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences, runs the clearinghouse website ASMR University, where he interviews people who’ve studied the phenomenon and blogs about ASMR in the news. Richard himself reports experiencing ASMR; nevertheless, he says scientific skepticism is warranted until more studies are published. To that end, Richard and two other researchers, Allen and a graduate student, have been conducting an online survey that he says so far includes 20,000 people across over 100 countries, almost all of them “tingleheads.”
While little scientific research has been conducted into potential neurobiological correlates to the perceptual phenomenon known as 'autonomous sensory meridian response' (ASMR), with a consequent dearth of data with which to either explain or refute its physical nature, there is voluminous anecdotal literature comprising personal commentary and intimate disclosure of subjective experiences distributed across forums, blogs, and YouTube comments by hundreds of thousands of people. Within this literature, in addition to the original consensus that ASMR is euphoric but non-sexual in nature, a further point of continued majority agreement within the community of those who experience it is that they fall into two broad categories of subjects.
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