There is no solid data about ASMR, no published research studies — not yet. The term “ASMR” is nonclinical, coined in 2010 by a woman named Jennifer Allen who started an ASMR Facebook group and later became part of a team — along with Richard — that collected and analyzed anecdotal information about the sensation. Richard also notes the work of Bryson Lochte, a Dartmouth College undergrad who has used neuroimaging technology to study ASMR for his senior thesis but has not published his results.
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.
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.”
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?”
“Our research studies consistently show that ASMR is a relaxing, calming sensation that increases feelings of social connectedness,” Giulia Poerio (a co-author of the study), told Newsweek. “Importantly, we found that ASMR videos produce significant reductions in heart rate in people who experience ASMR. So we now have more objective evidence of the idea that ASMR is relaxing. It’s not just people telling us that ASMR makes them feel relaxed—their physiology is telling us the same thing too.”
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.
There is little scientific research on the phenomenon—the first scientific paper on it was published on the open-access journal PeerJ in 2015. That study had nearly 500 people who subscribed to Facebook or Reddit ASMR groups fill out a questionnaire about their online ASMR habits and why they engaged in them. Most people said they watched the videos to help them relax, de-stress, and get to sleep. (Only five percent said they watch the videos for sexual reasons.)
Of course, when I go looking for it, these things won't give me shivers but it's very calming and pleasurable. There are also other singers and bands like Digital Daggers, Kanon Wakeshima, Lacey Sturm, etc., that could give you shivers and such. Also I like to listen to classical type music, music boxes, pianos, violins, soundtracks, like fantasy type music composed by people like Peter Gundry, a very famous violinist named Lindsey Stirling, soundtracks from RWBY or Vampire Knight, etc. These may not actually be asmr but it could be very shiver inducing and pleasurable.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a nonclinical term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who’s been involved in online organizing around ASMR since the late aughts. Allen, who works in cybersecurity, figured people couldn’t discuss the phenomenon unless it had a name—ideally, an official-sounding one, to lend legitimacy to a practice that can be embarrassing to share. Once ASMR had a name—and had been featured in a slew of can-you-believe-this news stories—academics became interested in pinning down what it was.
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.
"ASMR is not as odd as it sounds," said Burnie Burns, co-founder and chief creative officer of production company Rooster Teeth. "In the 90s we had CDs and audio tapes of rain forest sounds that many people used for relaxation purposes -- there just wasn't a fancy term to classify that media. Since online video has become a phenomenon, now we have a whole new generation of those kinds of ephemeral experiences created by people all over the world."
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.
Okay, science may never explain the shoe thing. But scroll through these lists, and the array of triggers is largely consistent: classical music, haircuts, movie trailers, Bob Ross, more Bob Ross, lots of Bob Ross, the painter best known for his popular instructional videos. Forget the bucolic landscapes; these Ross fans are fixated on his calming baritone and the rustle of his brush on the canvas.
Think about nails scratching a chalkboard for one second. Are you flinching? One study found that this sound literally accelerated the participants’ stress levels, quickening heart rates, heightening blood pressure and even altering the skin’s electrical conductivity. In the study, the scientists discovered that—when stimulated with this screeching sound, the auditory cortex interacted with the amygdala, which controls responses related to fear and emotions.
NBC News: "Why some researchers say 'brain tingles' could be the next big trend in relaxation" — "Have you ever felt a static-like or tingling sensation on the top of your head when someone brushes your hair or whispers to you? The feeling may travel down your arms and your spine, and it likely makes you feel very relaxed. Some call it a 'sparkly' feeling, and it might happen when you hear someone crinkle a piece of paper or when someone traces a word on your back.
“If you can’t experience it you’re gonna either think it’s weird or you’re gonna think it’s creepy,” Hunnicutt says. Aoki – now playing with her toys in the corner of the room – thinks aloud. “IT’S NOT CREEPY!” she shouts emphatically (although it’s worth noting that with her childish rhotacism, it comes out as “cweepy”). Like many ASMRtists, she notes that these videos help people with insomnia, PTSD and stress. “I mean there’s always some weirdos in the world, but you can’t stop helping others just because there are those people.”
What is ASMR? For a trend so wildly popular, you probably haven’t heard of it. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it’s a strange recent phenomenon. We all find certain sounds mentally and physically stimulating—some things send a shiver down our spines, create a sensation in the back of our heads. ASMR is a type of sensory stimulus that helps you to relax! In fact, there’s an entire section of Youtube videos and sound creation that is meant to help people feel good.
Nothing can currently be definitively known about any evolutionary origins for ASMR since the perceptual phenomenon itself has yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlations. Even so, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has led to the conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.