Smith speculates that ASMR may be similar to synesthesia, the fascinating neurological condition in which people see numbers in color and “taste” shapes. “In synesthesia,” he says, “there have been some studies that show there’s slightly atypical wiring in the brain that leads to slightly different sensory associations, and I think that may be the same thing we have here.”
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.
Binaural recordings are made specifically to be heard through headphones rather than loudspeakers. When listening to sound through loudspeakers, the left and right ear can both hear the sound coming from both speakers. By distinction, when listening to sound through headphones, the sound from the left earpiece is audible only to the left ear, and the sound from the right ear piece is audible only to the right ear. When producing binaural media, the sound source is recorded by two separate microphones, placed at a distance comparable to that between two ears, and they are not mixed, but remain separate on the final medium, whether video or audio.
Sounds like just normal. When you feel it you know it. That jumping around sensation can start just like yours did. Mine starts at the base of my neck traveling up like the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, but more relaxing and very nice. Feel like giggling inside, then shoots up to my scalp and down my arms and waves travel everywhere. Whole thing can be over in a few seconds. Experiencing the trigger over again still produces symptoms but maybe not so much/or in different places. You get to feel kind of drugged. I may not feel it if I listen to a song I love from beginning to end, but will if it’s a snippet of the chorus or lead up to it. A few minutes ago I got triggered from hearing a sample from iTunes of a song I bought recently. That song has a lot of trigger types in it. Sounds like whispers or gentle waves, light tapping beats, breathy singing, violins.
For me it’s tapping, whispering (the closer the better), hair brushing (directly on the mic, not just raking a brush through hair), and hypnosis (even if they’re only attempts or roleplay). Medical or other kinds of roleplay don’t seem to affect me at all and just come off as phony in my mind. It’s the sounds themselves, and their intensity at very close range, that hit me hardest. I don’t really care what’s being said. In fact I get just as much out of asmr in languages I don’t understand. Pretty sure French in and of itself is something of a trigger.
But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling. Some people watch the videos to help them sleep at night. And even without the tingles, it is sort of relaxing, if you can get past the dissonance of someone whispering in your ear while you scroll through Twitter in your cubicle, or whatever.
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.
Seven years later, ASMR is having a pop culture moment—even if many of those who use it don’t know what the acronym stands for. The phenomenon’s most popular practitioners have more than half a million subscribers, and the doyenne of ASMRrtists, Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR, has been so successful that she’s been able to quit her job to role-play soothing cosmetologists, librarians and flight attendants full-time. But what is ASMR? What function does it serve, who is drawn to it, and why? Or, as researcher Craig Richard puts it: “Why are millions of people watching someone fold a napkin?”
Hidden on YouTube among the videos of aspiring singers crooning Justin Bieber and amateur gamers playing FortNite is a star unlike the others. Her name is Spirit Payton, and her claim to fame is making noise. In her most popular video, with upwards of 13 million views, you’ll find her noisily chewing pickles next to a microphone. Yes, 13 million people have watched Spirit eat pickles—and they love it. Welcome to ASMR.
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.