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.[citation needed] 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.[58] A 2018 fMRI study showed that the major brain regions already known to be activated in frisson are also activated in ASMR,[29] 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".

In 2015, two psychology researchers at Swansea University in Wales published the first peer-reviewed research study on the phenomenon, in which they tried to do the bedrock work of describing and classifying ASMR. After surveying 475 people who report experiencing “the tingles,” they found that a sizable majority sought out ASMR videos on YouTube to help them sleep, and to deal with stress. Most viewers found they felt better after watching these videos and for some time after, including those who scored high on a survey for depression. Some of the subjects who suffered from chronic pain also said the videos decreased their symptoms.
On June 3 2018, Makenna Kelly, a 13-year old from Fort Collins, Colorado, uploaded the video that propelled her to internet stardom. Entitled “Eating Raw Honeycomb – EXTREMELY Sticky Mouth Sounds”, it featured the teen chewing fistfuls of pure honeycomb directly in front of a microphone for 16 minutes. In the following months, it was viewed 12 million times. By October, Kelly had reached one million YouTube subscribers.
Like those who posted before me, I have experienced ASMR for many years. My earliest memories are around the second grade. In my second grade class, we were required to read with partners; however, I was a more advanced reader and would allow my partner to read the entire time if he/she wanted. I would experience intense tingling around the crown of my head listening to him/her read, but I would also experience very intense tingling in the frontal lobe region watching him/her turn the book pages. Around the same time, I would intentionally watch Bob Ross on PBS (like others have mentioned) to take a nap due to the same tingling sensation and calm/relaxation he induced.
Maria says that she hears from subscribers, including doctors and psychologists, who are excited by the ASMR research. But mostly, she gets thank-you notes — from people with anxiety or sleep disorders, from overwhelmed college students struggling through exam week, from military veterans who tell her that her videos offer a sense of calm that they can’t find elsewhere.
But for the most part, the people running actual research studies on ASMR are optimistic about the future. And it bodes well that the first paper published on the sensation adhered to the principles of open science. “Psychology is going through a period of change, where we are looking at how good our methods are, and how reliable and reproducible our findings are,” Davis points out. “I don’t see research in this area as any different from other fields of psychology. We were very keen to be very open about our work, and we uploaded our complete data set so anyone can check our results, or find new things that we hadn’t considered. This sort of openness doesn’t solve every problem in psychology, but we thought it was a good start.”
Understandably, considering the whispering, and the intimacy, and the term “brain orgasms,” ASMR can seem at first blush like a fetish of some kind. The ASMR subreddit clarifies: “This is sometimes referred to as head orgasms, but this is about as sexual as saying eating chocolate is orgasmic (in that it's not sexual).” And while they may exist, none of the many videos I’ve watched in the course of reporting this article have had any sexual content.
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.”
As Drenge put it to us, “the online slime craze popularized through Instagram and YouTube has touched on something deep within us.” According to the hypothesis that they tested with the video itself, “short, attention-sapping clips of Technicolor liquids reacting to a variety of stress tests tickle the base nerves of the brain. MRI scans show activity in the same parts of the brain that react to hypnotism and childhood comforts, brought on by warm blankets and lullabies. Scientists are reluctant to reveal any secrets but rumours are swirling with regards to an obscure cortex known as Deep Baby Brain. We are beginning to unlock deep secrets about the human psyche.”
The bizarreness of this footage means ASMR isn’t without controversies. In June 2018, the Chinese government banned ASMR videos, branding them “vulgar” and “pornographic”. In August, PayPal began blocking the accounts of ASMRtists who received money to make custom videos (although the company later denied it has a policy against ASMR content). For those who don’t experience ASMR, the videos can seem fetishistic. Beyond the weirdness of whispering and making “mouth sounds” as in Kelly’s honeycomb video, some people nickname ASMR a “brain orgasm”.

As Drenge put it to us, “the online slime craze popularized through Instagram and YouTube has touched on something deep within us.” According to the hypothesis that they tested with the video itself, “short, attention-sapping clips of Technicolor liquids reacting to a variety of stress tests tickle the base nerves of the brain. MRI scans show activity in the same parts of the brain that react to hypnotism and childhood comforts, brought on by warm blankets and lullabies. Scientists are reluctant to reveal any secrets but rumours are swirling with regards to an obscure cortex known as Deep Baby Brain. We are beginning to unlock deep secrets about the human psyche.”
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.”
I first encountered ASMR, as do most people, as a child. I never knew exactly what it was. I experienced it when certain teachers spoke, during certain TV shows and at the dentist. I didn’t understand the sensation but enjoyed it, and would try and stay very calm and relaxed every time it happened to try and lengthen my experience of it. You can read the full story of how I found ASMR in this post.
"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."
“We found that people who experience ASMR showed significant reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants,” Poerio explains, “These reductions are comparable to other stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and music therapy.” Poerio says this finding is crucial because reduced heart rates prove people who enjoy ASMR are not sexually aroused.
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.
Wow, this actually has a name!! I’ve been experiencing this every since I was a little girl – I respond to all three triggers. I always wondered what this was and it just never occurred to me that other people might be experiencing what I did (in particular, the auditory and visual triggers). These experiences are so unbelievably pleasant and ultra-relaxing. Trance-like, out-of-body even…I just go to another place. I have a vague recollection of trying to describe what I was feeling to friends throughout my childhood and just beyond and they had no idea what I was talking about/looked at me like I was a little out there. So I’ve considered it a uniquely personal experience up until now. Very cool! I’ve got some research to do and some amazing relaxing videos to watch.
What caught their attention was the brain’s “default mode network,” which Smith describes as “a lot of structures along the midline of the brain,” as well as parts of the parietal lobes above the backs of the ears. “The activity of these areas tend to fluctuate together, so we assume that they work together as a network,” Smith says. The default mode network is “most apparent” when a subject is awake and at rest, and is often associated with internal thoughts and mind wandering. In a scanner, the default mode network typically shows up as certain areas of the brain “lighting up” at the same time. But the brains of subjects who experienced ASMR looked different.
In 2019, Anheuser-Busch debuted a commercial advertisement that was aired during the 2019 Super Bowl for their Michelob Ultra "Pure Gold" organic beer featuring a time lapse video intro and various ASMR components with Zoe Kravitz performing. In the ad, Kravitz uses ASMR techniques including whispering and tapping on a Pure Gold brand bottle into two microphones.[87]
You have no idea how happy I was when I found out what ASMR was. I have had the trigger since I was a child and just like this says, I never understood what it was but I liked it. But sometimes bothering me. Like, if I need to focus in school while a teacher is trying to help me, but the sound of them flipping the pages in a book makes me sleepy and lose focus. And when I haven’t had enough sleep I seem to get the trigger from almost everything…

A smaller, more recent study offers a hint as to where ASMR research might go. Last year, psychology professor Stephen Smith and two colleagues at the University of Winnipeg put 22 subjects into fMRI scanners. Half were people who reported experiencing ASMR, and half were controls. Because the researchers did not know if they could reliably trigger tingles inside noisy fMRI machines—they tried this approach, and subjects seemed to have trouble relaxing—they scanned the resting states of 22 brains as the subjects simply lay there, to see if there were any differences between the two.
The video was designed for people who experience “ASMR”. Short for “autonomous sensory meridian response”, ASMR is a euphoric feeling certain people get from specific auditory stimuli. Those who experience it have different triggers – such as whispering, chewing or tapping – and also experience different bodily responses; some feel tingles, others become incredibly relaxed.
ASMR has also been called a "brain orgasm" because of gratification it can give viewers, but for the majority of people, there's no sexual connection. A study in PeerJ published in March 2015 found that 98 percent of the 475 study participants used it for relaxation, with 82 percent using it to help them sleep and 70 percent for stress relief. Only 5 percent used it for sexual stimulation, with the vast majority saying it brought no sexual pleasure.
In the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR, published in Perspectives in Biology in summer 2013, Nitin Ahuja, who was at the time of publication a medical resident at the University of Virginia, invited conjecture on whether the receipt of simulated medical attention might have some tangible therapeutic value for the recipient, comparing the purported positive outcome of clinical role play ASMR videos with the themes of the novel Love in the Ruins by author and physician Walker Percy, published in 1971.[5]
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