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.
Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz suggests that a passage from the novel Mrs. Dalloway authored by Virginia Woolf and published in 1925, describes something distinctly comparable. In the passage from Mrs. Dalloway cited by Setz, a nursemaid speaks to the man who is her patient 'deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper's, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound'.
This image from video provided by Michelob shows a frame from their 2019 Super Bowl commercial for Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. The ad features the actress Zoe Kravitz using techniques for autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It is described as a tingly euphoric response, usually starting on the head and scalp, and sometimes spreading down the neck, arms or back. (Michelob ULTRA via AP)
Having had enough not so good conditions (bipolar, ADD, panic attacks), it feels so good to have this one! Since ASMR seems to be triggered by so many things, I'm with the people who get tingly responses from certain types of touch (massage, scalp massage) and certain sounds (put me on on a boat or train and I'm in happyland). Strangely, whispering, tapping, folding laundry have no effect at all or are even annoying. Have also bought a few hypnosis CDs and they actually irritate the crap out of me and I hate guided meditation! But soft speaking voices are my main non-physical trigger. If I listen to certain presenters on Radio National Australia, This American Life etc, I can't drive because it's too hypnotic. Very blissful though :). For those who have the condition, you'll find your trigger even if it's not in the top 5.
The most popular stuff discussed amongst ASMR community is whispering and tapping – and I get it a bit from that – but one thing is, I know that when the person is addressing me (or the camera as it may be), that seems to dispel ASMR for me. In fact, I’d say a pre-req for me to ASMR is that I am in the role of passive observer – perhaps that speaks to my personality? I know I have introverted tendencies. That leads me to the first of my questions:
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.
Neither Lee nor Skinner had a name for this sensation until recently. “I just thought it was a thing that everybody had,” Skinner says. The community that has sprung up around this specific physical sensation is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Internet-born and bred. It’s also sometimes called “Attention-Induced Euphoria,” though ASMR is the term that has caught on. According to Google, the term first showed up in 2011, increased in search popularity in 2012, and really took off this year.
She made her first ASMR video in February 2011, filming herself as she leafed through a journal and played with seashells. The video logged just two views in a month, and Maria was so disappointed that she deleted it. A few months later, she tried again; this time, there were a few encouraging comments. She kept at it, and by the end of the year, she had 30,000 subscribers. Nearly three years later, she has more than 300,000.
I have been experiencing “ASMR” for as long as I can remember. Of course there are certain natural physical or visual triggers, but for me the trigger is a little more esoteric. It can happen at anytime and I generally connect to cognitive thought. I had no idea it had a name. When i am in meditation and i feel a connection with the divine (higher self, whatever anyone chooses to call it) it comes on as a full body buzz. I generally associate it with being aligned to something and getting a thumbs up, or green light to proceed. The absence of ASMR indicates a thumbs down for me, or a red light. So i guess you could say it is a tool of intuition for me. For example, i will have an ASMR top left quadrant of head, within a moment i will hear from someone i have been thinking about or not thinking about. In the beginning it would present only at the top of my crown, now it can originate at forehead or temporal lobes, base of head, etc. i had no idea it had a name until i stumbled on a you tube video and googled ASMR.bdoes anyone else associate it with something non-linear?
wow. I never knew what that feeling was called until now. I’ve kept it to myself all of these years because I was never sure how to talk about it. I discovered mine in kindergarten when a girl traced her finger along a page. I can experience ASMR pretty much whenever I want now. for me, it’s a combination of sound and motion. for some reason, an Indian accent triggers it very easily. it’s an amazing feeling. I’m curious, does anyone know if there are any health pros or cons with ASMR? have any studies been done?
"Basically, it feels like the amazing chills you get when someone plays with your hair or traces your back with their fingertips," says Heather Feather, a popular "ASMRtist" with nearly 400,000 YouTube subscribers. The dulcet tones of famed soft-spoken painter Bob Ross are among the most common ASMR triggers. Indeed, "Bob Ross" is among the terms most frequently associated with ASMR—and so are "Heather Feather" and "GentleWhispering," another top ASMRtist on YouTube.
Hi! I am not sure if I experience ASMR or not. The only thing that I know is when someone whispers, speaks (low/high notes) close/near my back I get chills/tingles/tickling sensation. But when the sound doesn’t travel straight to my back, I dont get chills. I have been searching for answers and ASMR is the only thing close to it. I hope that you guys can help me. Thanks.
"ASMR videos tend to have low production costs, but have a massive replay-ability factor," Burns explained. "'Baba the Cosmic Barber's original head massage video has almost 10,000,000 views. Many of those views come from people who probably watch it several times a week to fall asleep. Ten million views is incredible for a video that costs less than fifty dollars to make."
Emotionally, Kelly and Daniel seem equipped to deal with this backlash (Aoki Hunnicutt remains blissfully unaware of any negativity, and also much else about YouTube fame – at one point during our interview, she asks with concern, “Mummy, I thought we were going to do an interview?”). Yet while they are fine with their fame, it may trouble the young stars to lose it.
The concept itself has existed before the term ASMR was coined. In 2007, a user under the handle okaywhatever51838 created a thread titled “Weird Sensation Feels Good” on steadyhealth.com, where Jennifer Allen first came across others describing ASMR. In 2008, one user within that forum thread called the sensation Attention Induced Head Orgasm (AIHO). In early 2010, another forum user called it Attention Induced Observant Euphoria.
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.
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”.
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'.
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.”
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..
The term ASMR was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, a 39-year-old penetration tester. “For years I thought, ‘Jeez, maybe I have a brain tumour or something,’” she recalls. From 1999 onwards, Allen searched steadfastly for others like her online. In the late noughties, she stumbled upon a SteadyHealth.com forum in which a user named okaywhatever51838 discussed a “weird sensation” that “feels good”.
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.”
Most importantly for Hunnicutt, Aoki seems to love making videos. Like most five-year-olds, she loves trying on her mother’s lipsticks, but unlike most five-year-olds, Aoki was encouraged to rummage in her mum’s make-up bag – and a camera captured the results. “I put all the lipstick on!” Aoki grins, explaining this video was her favourite to make.
I find that I get a lot of comments and messages about using ASMR for anxiety, depression, and more. I can totally relate with that, and ASMR is an awesome outlet for those things. However, if you’re interested, above is a link to a website with real, professional & licensed counselors. You can type to them, or call them! It’s actually a really cool service and I use it personally. It costs as low as $35 a week, and you don’t have to leave your house to use it. :)
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.
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.
It can often just start with a softly breathed “hellohellohello.” By now, if you’ve got a favourite genre of ASMR content, you probably know what it is. I still have to google what ASMR stands for (Autonomous sensory meridian response—why can I never remember this?) but spend about half of my working day listening to Korean women or Spanish men whispering and tapping cardboard boxes anyway. Look, it helps me concentrate. These are the basics: ASMR makes your body and brain tingle, in a way that is not sexual and not weird. It’s sort of like a massage coming from inside your head, through sound. Those sounds can be anything from light stroking (shout out to Tenaqui using acrylic nails on an eyeshadow palette), to brushing straight fine hair, crunching on fried chicken skin, whispering about crystals, literally saying “sksksk” and rubbing your fingers together real fast like you’re trying to get rid of stray cat hairs.
It’s not really a physical feeling if that makes sense, but there is a powerful reaction to the sounds nonetheless, to the point where I’m instinctively arching my neck, and a feeling does wash over you that is truly unique, almost addictive. What I don’t fully understand is why my mind chose just now to react when I haven’t had anything close to an ASMR experience before. I’d say that I’ve just found the right trigger, but I’m even reacting to videos that did nothing for me in the past. Like something clicked in my head recently.
I’m a prematurely retired, disabled, UCLA med school trained pediatrician, due to a stroke and for me ASMR occurs only with music, but just what I call exquisite(level) music. Interestingly before my love for science, my first love was music, as an alto, tenor, and baritone sax player as a child. My experience is that it always is full body, at the onset, and sometimes is accompanied by a slight body warmth effect. It is always a very pleasant sensation, and does not always occur with these level of songs. Not maybe related, but I’ve become a sensation at party type celebrations, as people are amazed at my dancing skills without my quad cane, without much use of my limited right side of my body. They look at me in a crazed way when I tell them I really don’t consider it dancing, in the strictest sense, but it’s like the music and I are symbiotic, and I become the music so that my body just starts spontaneously moving in such a way they would not believe possible, with much improved balance, as people start to hoot, holler, clap and recording with their smart phones. I’m not putting on a show, just enjoying music at the highest level I know. I have always loved music intensely. Initially, I did what I call chair dancing, all upper body, for quite some time, after my stroke.
There are two ways that people can experience ASMR. You can experience it through simple meditation or just thinking about a scene or sound that pleases you. Or you can experience it through watching a video or listening to a recording. As for the mechanisms at work behind ASMR, nobody is quite sure why some people react the way that they do. It could be that the videos remind you of your childhood (perhaps, for example, you watched your mom do the same action as a kid, so it’s comforting) or that the simple sounds lull you into a relaxed state. Ready to give ASMR a try? Find some videos on the YouTube channel for GentleWhispering, ASMR University, and ASMRlab.
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.