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.
What caught their attention was the brain’s “default mode network,” which Smith describes as “a lot of structures along the midline of the brain,” as well as parts of the parietal lobes above the backs of the ears. “The activity of these areas tend to fluctuate together, so we assume that they work together as a network,” Smith says. The default mode network is “most apparent” when a subject is awake and at rest, and is often associated with internal thoughts and mind wandering. In a scanner, the default mode network typically shows up as certain areas of the brain “lighting up” at the same time. But the brains of subjects who experienced ASMR looked different.
So how do you know if you have ASMR? There’s no single way to tell for sure, but for starters, you can watch some of the internet’s most popular videos and determine whether they elicit a tingling response. And for your convenience, we’ve compiled some of the best ASMR videos that YouTube has to offer—so get those goose bumps ready, and while you’re at it, try these brain teasers to find out whether you’re smarter than an astronaut.
“We talked to her about how it’s good today but might be gone tomorrow,” Lacy says. With YouTube’s new, stricter regulations, child ASMRtists may be replaced by an as-yet-unknown breed of internet celebrity. Desireé Hunnicutt, for instance, is hoping that Aoki’s early start on YouTube will allow her to start a business. “I believe in Aoki figuring out what it is that she wants to do in life even early on and I hope it actually helps her,” she says.
All of which is to say, watch the thing. It comes from an album that honestly made me think, ‘hang on, where have Drenge been and were they always sounding this good?’ I think I last saw them at Glastonbury 2014, a year when I accosted them backstage and filmed a short video interview for the publication where I worked at the time. They seemed very tired but very cheerful. At that stage, they were bang in the middle of their first wave of hype. They’d released their self-titled debut album in autumn 2013, seemingly coming out of nowhere (in fact: Castleton) with a fully-formed sound. They both also seemed so young, grinning gamely in interviews—I could’ve sworn they were teens and not, in fact, in their early twenties by the time they broke through.
Daniel and Prunkl keep a folder full of this man’s transgressions and have notified the local police. “Sometimes it scares me,” Daniel confesses, quieter now. “It does scare me that this guy could be anywhere.” Similarly, Makenna Kelly fears that kids at her bus stop will follow her home and leak her address online. “I just go down to the clubhouse and wait ten minutes just to make sure nobody knows where I live.”
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.
The story follows Tom More, a psychiatrist living in a dystopian future who develops a device called the Ontological Lapsometer that, when traced across the scalp of a patient, detects the neurochemical correlation to a range of disturbances. In the course of the novel, More admits that the 'mere application of his device' to a patient's body 'results in the partial relief of his symptoms'.