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.
Have you ever had a pleasing reaction to something but were unable to articulate how it makes you feel because it makes absolutely no sense? For example, I love the smell of freshly opened tennis balls. I am fully aware that the smell shouldn’t be great, it’s hardly enticing on paper. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s a musky, muddy, petroleum, rubbery odor. Sounds great, huh? Interestingly, there is a fraction of the population who, like me, loves this smell.
“There needs to be a careful balance between skepticism and open-mindedness when investigating ASMR,” the Sheffield group say. “There is also of course the danger that ASMR videos get picked up by people who might try and use them to market pseudoscience or mental health benefits (without the evidence to support it), and inadvertently spread misinformation about it, which would of course damage the reputation of any genuine research going on,” they add. We’ve already started to see cases of this – just this week, in an interview with the Daily Mail, ASMR video producer Lauren Ostrowksi Fenton claimed that the sensation is produced by oxytocin, which she refers to as “the cuddle hormone, the hugging hormone, or the feel-good hormone”. Besides the fact that there’s simply no evidence that oxytocin is responsible for the sensation, the science behind the claim that oxytocin is a “hug hormone” is itself extremely weak.
Imaging subjects' brains with fMRI as they reported experiencing ASMR tingles suggests support for this hypothesis, because brain areas such as the medial prefrontal cortex (associated with social behaviors including grooming), and the secondary somatosensory cortex (associated with sensation of touch) were activated more strongly during tingle periods than control periods.
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.
ASMR is described as a pleasurable tingling that begins in the head and scalp, shimmies down the spine and relaxes the entire body. Maria — she asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons; her videos have sometimes attracted unwanted attention — experiences ASMR, and her YouTube channel, GentleWhispering, melds her personal tingle-triggers with others suggested by her fans. The resulting videos have drawn more than 87 million views, making Maria the premier celebrity of a controversial but increasingly recognized phenomenon.
I’ve been experiencing ASMR since childhood, although Its only been about 6 months since I discovered that other people experience this same feeling. I have never really been able to “conjure” the tingles, they just come when they come. I have identified my triggers to be more of the one on one human interaction variety. Here’s my question: since discovering the ASMR community I have tried watching several different types of YouTuber’s (men, women, different styles, topics, etc.) but the videos (although they can be nice and relaxing) never make me feel the same as “the real thing.” Does anyone else find his to be the case? Have you discovered any way around it if so?
In 2012, Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine wrote a blog post about ASMR, asking “the most basic question—is it real? In this case I don’t think there is a definitive answer, but I am inclined to believe that it is… 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.” He goes on to speculate as to what ASMR could be—possibly small seizures, or “just a way of activating the pleasure response.”
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 a question about my own experience with ASMR. I do not have any of the common triggers that are mentioned here. Mine seems more cognitive than anything else. When I fully express a thought with someone who is deeply engaged in the conversation and they agree with me or give me some sign that they understand, I get an intense tingle in my head and scalp. I think its very odd, but I enjoy it and I think it has reinforced my ability and preference for good conversation. I am just curious if anyone else experiences anything remotely similar to this and if you have found anything else that goes along with it. Thanks!
Another article, published in the journal Television and New Media in November 2014, is by Joceline Andersen, a doctoral student in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, who suggested that ASMR videos comprising whispering 'create an intimate sonic space shared by the listener and the whisperer'. Andersen's article proposes that the pleasure jointly shared by both an ASMR video creator and its viewers might be perceived as a particular form of 'non-standard intimacy' by which consumers pursue a form of pleasure mediated by video media. Andersen suggests that such pursuit is private yet also public or publicized through the sharing of experiences via online communication with others within the 'whispering community'.
I frequently get seemingly random shivers throughout my body that last for a moment or two. To give these shivers some context, I was told this is what happens when "someone walks over your grave," (don't know if you guys have heard the expression?) Could these shivers be momentary glimpses of a real ASMR experience, or something else entirely? I've never really paid much attention to them before.
“People asked for really weird things,” she explains, “like tapping on a TV or playing with string.” For instance, one stranger paid Kelly $50 (about £38) to film herself eating cookies and milk. In an 11-minute video, Kelly tapped on the biscuits with her vibrant pink fingernails before biting into them and slurping them down with a jar of milk. More than 300,000 people watched that video.
Then, slime arrived. Personally, it’s a no from me, with its videos of hands plunging into the sticky depths of squelching, rainbow-colored goo or a sequin-stuffed mass that crackles as it’s manipulated. It looks good, sure, but slime doesn’t make a sound that in any way feels satisfying, calming or hypnotic, the way really good vocal ASMR does for me. And so maybe it’s just as well rowdy garage-rock group Drenge—brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who are joined live by bassist Rob Graham – have ripped the piss out of chirpy YouTubers in a new music video that’s all about slime. It’s… absurd, in a good way. Here’s a bit of what they had to say about it, in a sort of 700-word mission statement almost as batshit as the concept itself.
A study done by Google, the parent company of YouTube states, ASMR videos are mostly watched by people between the ages of 18 and 24. Osbourn has noticed this trend and thinks there’s a correlation with mental health. “Our generation is more open to talking about mental health, we are so much more aware of ‘I’m struggling mentally, and I need help, and I’m going to find the help that I need,’ than any other generation, in my opinion,” she said.
“I just tried it because I thought it would help out my channel and it did, yeah,” Kelly says of her honeycomb video. When she started her channel in March 2018, Kelly made more traditional YouTube videos – filming herself applying make-up and eating different foreign snacks. “It was exciting,” she says of going viral, “because I was like, this could actually be my dream, I’ve always wanted a lot of subscribers.”
The ASMR videos are easy to laugh at if you’re a casual observer–when I recently played one on my iPhone for guests at a dinner party, everyone cracked up within five seconds of watching the video. The videos usually include an attractive woman in a role-play scenario: She’s pretending to be an eye doctor, a makeup artist, or even checking hair for head lice. All videos are shot in first person, so the viewer appears to be alone in the room with the woman. And she’s usually whispering or speaking softly to you. It’s this combination of voice and the sounds from object interaction that the viewer hopes will trigger an ASMR experience.
The study is still ongoing, and results have not yet been published. But for his part, Richard has been developing a theory of what ASMR is and why it exists. His theory isn't exactly scientific, but it is beautiful: He notes that the quality that underlies almost all ASMR videos is what’s been called a “tranquil, womb-like intimacy.” That is, ASMRtists speak softly into the ears of headphone-wearing viewers, gently coaxing them to sleep by way of assiduous personal attention, comforting words, smiles and simulated stroking. At its most essential level, Richard believes, all the intimacy channeled through towel foldings and whispered affection is about triggering the felt experience of being loved.
I didn’t even know this had a name! I have always been able to induce the feeling by focusing my attention on the base of my skull and letting the energy run. I have always enjoyed the feeling, but experience it as voluntary and not cultivated by sensory/cognitive experiences. Is this strange or are other folks eliciting this feeling when desired as well?
I also happen to be able to trigger asmr at will pretty much instinctively; the intensity sometimes is weak though if i cant concentrate due to interference. The intensity is far greater than when it is caused by external stimuli though. Anyone alse capable of directing the feeling (always starts at the base of the skull for me) to parts of their body at will??
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.
An article titled "An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)" by Stephen D. Smith, Beverley Katherine Fredborg, and Jennifer Kornelsen, looked at the default mode network (DMN) in individuals with ASMR. The study, which used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), concluded that there were significant differences in the DMN of individuals who have ASMR as compared to a control group without ASMR.