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.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a curious phenomenon. Those who experience it often characterise it as a tingling sensation in the back of the head or neck, or another part of the body, in response to some sort of sensory stimulus. That stimulus could be anything, but over the past few years, a subculture has developed around YouTube videos, and their growing popularity was the focus of a video posted on the Guardian this last week. It’s well worth a watch, but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been a bit more interesting if there had been some scientific background in it. The trouble is, there isn’t actually much research on ASMR out there.
It's funny - for me some of these clips didn't quite work. But they sure did for my rabbit who listens to various forms of media - tv, radio, conference calls, me - most of the day. He usually is quite a passive listener and will only occasionally respond with ear turning or a change in position that shows he's listening to something different that has caught his attention.
I have been experiencing ASMR right from my childhood on many occasions, notably when I get personal attention, for example when a tailor takes the measurements. I do experience ASMR during hair cuts but to a lesser degree. The intensity is more when I get my moustache trimmed, a final ritual of my hair cut. It might sound weird to you, but I am trying to explain iin detail so that you get a better understanding of ASMR for different people.
Richard suggests that the “extreme relaxation” of ASMR may be the mirror image of panic attacks, residing at the far end of the relaxation spectrum. If, as his data so far shows, three-quarters of his subjects use ASMR videos to help them sleep, a third say the videos help them “feel less sad,” and smaller percentages use the videos to deal with diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression, ASMR could one day have therapeutic applications, he argues.
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.
One part of that forage into “Deep Baby Brain” involves introducing you to ‘YouTuber’ CuteKid4950, and his tub of Strange Creatures goo. He starts off with the usual setup, doing his piece to camera before getting out the gunk. But then… things get weird. “Expanding upon the YouTube infotainment vlog format,” Drenge said, “CuteKid4950 takes us from kitchen to basement to warehouse to cave and emerges unscathed and enlightened. We can see the time and space properties of the real world crumble into insignificance. Unusual patterns emerge. Colours and shapes of forgotten solar systems reveal themselves amid the paint and the goo. This is more than something to keep you lightly amused. People will tell you that you are mad. They will try to denounce you. Ignore them. Let history be the judge.”
Richard and his team ask participants to rank the way they’d most prefer to experience ASMR, if YouTube weren’t the only option. (Data from the Swansea University study shows most people have their first ASMR experiences as children, through real-life interactions with family and friends.) “Receiving light touches with my eyes closed” ranked first; sound triggers were below and visual ones lower still—an echo, Richards says, of how the senses develop in human beings.
I’m slightly late to the asmr party – only just found out about it – and am still in disbelief.. Like a lot of people on here I’ve had it since childhood and thought I was the only person in the world who had it! Most intensely with dentists (talking to their assistants), school nurse inspections and air hostess safety demonstrations – the obvious ones let’s say – but also to a lesser degree with nature documentaries from the 1970s (British Columbia Forest documentaries) and the Open University (in the UK) course module videos, also from the 70s. Both of which featured fairly spaced out electronic music and softly spoken boffins..
Sounds work ok, but I have always got the most (for lack of better word) intense asmr from touch. They don’t even have to touch me. When I was in 4-5 grade I would get it when someone I dont know well touched something close to me like my favorite stuffed animal or the eraser I use every day at school. Now I can just get lightly touched on the face and it will happen. I can just think about it and get it now.
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”.
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.
In a 2012 blog post, Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, compared ASMR to migraine headaches — “We know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” he wrote — and theorized that ASMR could even be a type of “pleasurable” seizure.
I experience both asmr and frisson so I am familiar with both. They are similar in that they both cause a tingling sensation. Asmr is triggered mainly by physical senses (sight, sound, sometimes smell) and produces a relaxing effect. Like you literally can fall asleep from it. Frisson is triggered by thought and emotion and produces an exciting effect.
The type of "bliss" I experience can most easily be experienced at train stations or airports, where lots of people move, though I wasn't open to this before practicing meditation, yoga and seva, so may take time to develop and is not an end goal in itself. End goal should be the journey, to make steps in the directions you truly desire and attract, compromising oneself a bit less.
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. 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. A 2018 fMRI study showed that the major brain regions already known to be activated in frisson are also activated in ASMR, 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".
ASMR is usually precipitated by stimuli referred to as 'triggers'. ASMR triggers, which are most commonly auditory and visual, may be encountered through the interpersonal interactions of daily life. Additionally, ASMR is often triggered by exposure to specific audio and video. Such media may be specially made with the specific purpose of triggering ASMR or originally created for other purposes and later discovered to be effective as a trigger of the experience.