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?
The areas that typically work together weren’t firing together as much. Instead, other areas of the brain were getting more involved than usual—areas related to a visual network, for instance. These differences suggest “that instead of having distinct brain networks the way you or I would, there was more of a blending of these networks,” says Smith, who studies the neuroscience of emotion. “It does make intuitive sense that a condition associated with atypical sensory association and atypical emotional association would have different wiring in the brain.”
Neither Lee nor Skinner had a name for this sensation until recently. “I just thought it was a thing that everybody had,” Skinner says. The community that has sprung up around this specific physical sensation is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Internet-born and bred. It’s also sometimes called “Attention-Induced Euphoria,” though ASMR is the term that has caught on. According to Google, the term first showed up in 2011, increased in search popularity in 2012, and really took off this year.
At Google BrandLab, we help brands tap into the full potential of YouTube. Many sounds can trigger the calming sensation of ASMR, and brands should listen up. We are not just talking about an enormous engaged audience to tap; we are talking about an enormous engaged audience that is already using your brand. ASMRtists often employ objects, especially food products, to create the tingly effect: crinkling wrappers, chewing candy, cracking open cans. (A search for "beer ASMR" on YouTube returns over 81,000 video results.) Tic Tac, Swedish Fish, and Taco Bell are all brands that make cameos in YouTube creator videos.
Kelly knows that she inspires other kids to take up ASMR – children at school ask for advice on how to make popular YouTube videos. At one football game recently, kids swamped Kelly for photos. “It was like… crazy,” Kelly whispers dramatically. “I went with friends and we walked past this group of cheerleaders and they all got quiet. They came up one after another and were like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’”
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.”
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.
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.
In the limited, small studies that have been done investigating ASMR, there do appear to be brain abnormalities in people who experience ASMR, though this is far from confirmed. But some studies did find that people who experience the phenomenon appear to have brains that are wired differently when it comes to the areas that react to sensory perception. Instead of two sensory areas having a clear connection in their brain, a tinglehead’s sensory areas of the brain appear to blend together to some degree. Some neurologists who have studied the phenomena even think ASMR could be related to the bizarre condition of synesthesia, where a person can hear smells or see music.
The study asked a range of questions about where, when and why people watch ASMR videos, whether there was any consistency in ASMR-triggering content, as well as whether individuals felt it had any effect on their mood. There was a remarkable consistency across participants in terms of triggering content – whispering worked for the majority of people, followed by videos involving some sort of personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. For the most part, participants reported that they watched ASMR videos for relaxation purposes, or to help them sleep or deal with stress. Only 5% of participants reported that they used ASMR media for sexual stimulation, which is counter to a common perception of the videos found online. “There are a lot of people who latch onto some ASMR videos involving attractive women and dismiss what we found to be a very nuanced activity as exclusively sexual. Our findings will hopefully dispel that idea,” explains Barratt. “The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person,” adds Davis.
Allen verified in a 2016 interview that she purposely selected these terms because they were more objective, comfortable, and clinical than alternative terms for the sensation. Allen explained she selected the word meridian to replace the word orgasm due to its meaning of point or period of greatest prosperity.[clarification needed]