"Sounds that trigger ASMR are always low volume and are usually steady, rhythmic, and predictable," says Craig Richard, Ph.D., founder of the site ASMR University and author of Brain Tingles. "Our brains interpret sounds with these traits as non-threatening, which can induce relaxation—especially when incorporated with personal attention and caring behaviors."
The explanation behind this physiological reaction lies in the brain. "It's likely that the tingling is due to specific neurochemicals (like oxytocin and endorphins) being released during ASMR—and these neurochemicals are also inducing the deep feeling of relaxation," says Craig Richard, PhD, an ASMR researcher, professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia, and author of Brain Tingles. In a 2018 study published by Richard and his colleagues, they found that ASMR activated similar regions of the brain as those activated during affiliate behaviors, which includes interpersonal bonding (such as parent-infant bonding) along with grooming and care-giving behaviors that involve positive personal attention. These behaviors share similar triggers with ASMR, such as gentle touch, soft voices, focused attention, and a bond of trust.
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.”
^ Smith, Stephen; Fredborg, Beverley Katherine; Kornelsen, Jennifer (14 August 2015). "An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)". Social Neuroscience. 12 (4): 361–365. doi:10.1080/17470919.2016.1188851. PMID 27196787. In the current study, the default mode network (DMN) of 11 individuals with ASMR was contrasted to that of 11 matched controls.
Hearing a bedtime story may still lull you to sleep, but it might help more if the reader whispers it. Or if they gently tap their foot, or just shuffle papers around for a few minutes. Confused? There's a growing subculture of insomnia- and anxiety-plagued people who find solace in these kinds of repetitive sounds, a relaxation phenomenon known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). (This magical GIF can also help reduce anxiety, stat.)
"Good evening, this is Maria again with you. This video is going to be dedicated to your relaxation," says the young, blond woman in a soft voice. She moves slowly from the left side of your screen to the right, and you feel her whispering voice deep within each ear. She picks up a hairbrush, running her fingernails along the bristles and tapping the back of it. She blows into your ear and tickles you with a feather. As the video continues, you begin to feel increasingly relaxed and your eyes droop. The whole time she is speaking gently to you. "We come home and we want to relax," she whispers, petting the camera. "We want someone to pat us on the head and say how good we are. We want someone to comfort us, to tell us that we're so great...that we're appreciated. You are appreciated."
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.
The 21-year-old woman behind ASMR Darling, a YouTube channel with more than two million subscribers, said she goes only by her first name, Taylor, because she has experienced stalking and a public doxxing that made her fear for her safety. She said she made her first video when she was a teenager. “Being that young and being sexualized like that, it wasn’t a good confidence boost,” she said.
Although little research exists on the science behind ASMR, some researchers have theorized how it works. Richard, for one, said ASMR triggers could stimulate the "biological pathways" that humans use when bonding with a romantic partner, close friend, or family member, thus eliciting "similar responses like feeling comforted, feeling relaxed, and feeling secure."
OH.MY.GOD. I just read an article in, of all places, the Daily Mail (I know, shame on me) which lead me to this. I have tried a few times to explain this sensation to people and they look at me like I’m deranged, so I stopped. And then I discover here that it’s a real ‘thing’, and then I discover someone whose trigger is exactly the same as mine! Other people touching things that belong to me! That’s it. It only happens then. The last time it happened was when my children were babies and people touched them. Before that it was things like my pencil case or books when I was at school. Then, when I was older, it was things like my make up bag. Weird. Anyway, I hear ya, and I’m so amused to have discovered that other people have it too.
I used to think it was something religious then it was triggered by non religious music. I think mine is tied to ideas that seem to be deep and profound to me. When I really feel my place as one human among billions that is hurling through space on a small rock that is spinning around a constant nuclear fusion explosion. Connection to Humanity and Beauty.
I respond to ASMR video/audio, I just stumbled on this tonight while looking for binaural recordings, I sometimes listen them, I just realized it was to get that tingle. I came across the ‘Oh such a good 3D-sound ASMR video’ on YouTube and I turn off the screen and just listen to the audio. When the woman whispers on one side of my head, I get serious tickle spasms. From childhood, I’m severely ticklish on the entire right side of my body, but not my left. I respond the same way to ASMR. Anything on my right side, I get tingly on the top of my head, back of my neck, parts of my back, and my right knee. I literally have enjoyable spasms and I have to rip the headphones off to stop it. I know most people are ticklish all over. Since I’m really ticklish on my right side, I just thought I was born with all my tickle nerves on one side of my body.
What I want to discuss with the ASMR community is misophonia. In short, misophonia is a selective sound sensitivity syndrome involving strong dislike or hatred for certain sounds. While I gain pleasure and comfort from many sounds there are other sounds that stimulate frustration and anger. I used to become enraged at the dinner table growing up when hearing family members chew food. I have learned to manage the responses but there are quite a few triggers which lead to the anger.
Like many corners of the internet, there’s also a sense of comradery in being outside the norm. According to the Instagram user who runs an chalk-eating ASMR repost account, this has helped build trust in the community. “We all know we are a little left of average in what we find stimulates our ASMR experience, so there’s solidarity and kinship as well," the user said.
You have no idea how happy I was when I found out what ASMR was. I have had the trigger since I was a child and just like this says, I never understood what it was but I liked it. But sometimes bothering me. Like, if I need to focus in school while a teacher is trying to help me, but the sound of them flipping the pages in a book makes me sleepy and lose focus. And when I haven’t had enough sleep I seem to get the trigger from almost everything…
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'.