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'.
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.
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.
The uncharted territory isn’t what people experience, Richard says, but how (some people are triggered through their own thoughts and memories; others through external sights, sounds or touch) and why. To help find answers, Allen and Richard’s team launched its first rudimentary ASMR research survey last month. It received more than 4,000 responses within the first 10 days.
Barratt and Davis don’t see their study as a complete story; rather, it’s a foot in the door for researchers interested in studying the phenomenon. “We hope our work will provide a platform for more sophisticated work in the future, but we saw it as a starting point,” explains Davis. The next step, ideally, is to start trying to pin down the physiological basis of the sensation.
It seems bizarre that people would spend any amount of time watching a person play with what amounts to DIY Play-Doh, but these videos are hugely popular—and it may have something to do with a phenomenon known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The condition usually causes a relaxing tingling in a person’s scalp and the back of their neck, and can extend into the rest of the body in response to particular sounds, smells, or visuals, according to the ASMR Lab.
The most popular source of stimuli reported by subjects to be effective in triggering ASMR is video. Videos reported being effective in triggering ASMR fall into two categories, identified and named by the community as 'Intentional' and 'Unintentional'. Intentional media is created by those known within the community as 'ASMRtists' with the purpose of triggering ASMR in viewers and listeners. Unintentional media is that made for other purposes, often before attention was drawn to the phenomenon in 2007, but which some subjects discover to be effective in triggering ASMR. One early unintentional example is the Art Bears song 'The Bath of Stars.' Another example of unintentional media several journalists have noted is of famed painter Bob Ross. In episodes of his popular television series The Joy of Painting both broadcast and on YouTube, his soft, gentle speaking mannerisms and the sound of him painting and his tools trigger the effect on many of his viewers. The work of stop-motion filmmaker PES is also often noted.
Repetitive behaviors that are connected to the sense of touch can also be very soothing for some people, Saltz says, which may be why people like to massage their own slime for ASMR or watch videos of someone doing the action to elicit the memory of doing it themselves. Children can be soothed by repetitive motions, like massaging slime or Play-Doh, and that doesn’t necessarily change over a person’s lifetime, Saltz says.
I spoke to Dr Emma Blakey, Giulia Poerio, Tom Hostler and Theresa Veltri, who as graduate students at the University of Sheffield, are part of the new generation of ASMR researchers trying to do just that. They’re currently working on a study that will aim to see whether people who subjectively report the experience of ASMR also produce consistent physiological measures – for example, changes in heart rate, breathing rate, or skin conductance.
The term ASMR was coined by a woman named Jennifer Allen in 2010. It was around that time that she ran across a group of people on a steadyhealth.com forum who described a sensation she herself had experienced, but which no one seemed to understand well. Frustrated by the lack of community organization on that forum, she created a Facebook group called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Group. The group name was one that she believed captured the key characteristics of what’s now known as ASMR. She wanted to create a community that would bring together people who had also been experiencing this sensation. She consciously created a term that she felt people would be comfortable using: one that sounded objective, clinical, and impersonal. Soon after, a worldwide community began to take shape.
Lacy is no cliché pageant mum. Lounging on the sofa with wet hair and a grey T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign, she sits back, scrolling on her phone, to let her child speak candidly. She does not push Makenna to answer in a favourable way, nor is she pushing her daughter into stardom in pursuit of fame or riches. “She makes significantly more money than I do and works significantly less than I do,” laughs Lacy, sitting with her legs tucked underneath her on the large brown suede sofa in the middle of the family’s modest apartment. “She doesn’t have to babysit or dog-sit or anything, so it works out good.” Makenna smiles shyly, showing off pink braces. “I do want to babysit though! I like kids.”
“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.
“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.”
I’m not sure how to say this, but I’ll try. I think this experience is a spiritual one. I get the impression that when we appreciate something so simple and quiet this pleases God. It’s our own willingness to accept such “insignificant” events and appreciate the beauty of things which would otherwise be discarded in our noisy and materialistic lives. The appreciation of “small” things, be it sounds, sensations, smells which would otherwise be ignored really pleases our Creator, these sensations are a gift, a “thank you” for appreciating the wonder of nature and creation in all its beauty, especially the seemingly insignifcant moments and events in time ignored and forgotten by mankind…
“The strongest type of tingle…feels like sparkles or little fireworks going off,” she says. “The strongest one would give you the feeling of being exhausted, pleasantly tired, satisfied almost you want to say. Then there are much less strong tingles, and they feel just pleasant. Almost like sand is being poured down your spine. [Or] like when you get the funny elbow, when you hit it and it feels like it just goes off everywhere.”
While little scientific research has been conducted into potential neurobiological correlates to the perceptual phenomenon known as 'autonomous sensory meridian response' (ASMR), with a consequent dearth of data with which to either explain or refute its physical nature, there is voluminous anecdotal literature comprising personal commentary and intimate disclosure of subjective experiences distributed across forums, blogs, and YouTube comments by hundreds of thousands of people. Within this literature, in addition to the original consensus that ASMR is euphoric but non-sexual in nature, a further point of continued majority agreement within the community of those who experience it is that they fall into two broad categories of subjects.