Payton is part of an ASMR wave that is attracting millions of viewers to videos that are intentionally designed to trigger the tingles. They feature people whispering into microphones, carving or crushing soap, and giving personal makeovers. In less than 10 years since the term was coined, oddly satisfying ASMR content has gone from a fringe concept on message boards to a global internet phenomenon.
One category depends upon external triggers in order to experience the localized sensation and its associated feelings, which typically originates in the head, often reaching down the neck and sometimes the upper back. The other category can intentionally augment the sensation and feelings through attentional control, without dependence upon external stimuli, or 'triggers', in a manner compared by some subjects to their experience of meditation.
Over the past few years, videos like this have exploded in popularity on the platform. Millions are tuning in to watch strangers whisper into their microphones, tap their fingernails, fold napkins, or roleplay as a comforting nurse—all to help viewers experience a tingling, relaxing feeling known as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It may seem bizarre and uncomfortably intimate and maybe even a little creepy the first time you watch an ASMR video, but the creators behind these videos have a truly benevolent intent: to help their views relax, fall asleep, and find relief from the stress of their everyday lives.
I experience this occasionally. The strongest occasion was approx 12 years ago. I was in the “High Country” NE Victoria, North of a town called Mansfield. I was out hunting Sambar Deer, 10 K’s from my off sider and in open bush land. About 1 Hr prior I came across droppings from wild dogs which were prevalent in the area and a real problem for farmers. I had this sensation all over my head and down my neck, it scared me. I had the feeling someone, something was watching me and was a bit shaken. I pulled myself together and continued my hunt. Never came across any deer or anything else that day.
In the middle of the ASMR spectrum I have all sorts of triggers. A deep male voice reading Holy Scriptures. Definitely not as spiritual a response as the Cantor, but still pleasant, even so. A favorite trigger is good music, either played or sung. Usually it’s a voice that does it for me, more so than instruments. Depending on the type of song, lyrics and the melody/drums, music can trigger a wide range of ASMR types for me. Some are very much at the spiritual end, while others bring back the memory of ASMR events, and the memory itself triggers a mild repeat. Really good foods (eating or even smelling them) can trigger tingles in head and shoulders; while a head, back or foot massage can all be triggers, depending on the skill of the person.
I just discovered I was capable of triggering tingles on purpose this past month, after it popped into my head one day to seek out a video of a cat grooming itself (my trigger) to see if I could purposely trigger that weird relaxing feeling that I had experienced occasionally growing up, but had never really fully thought about. So that was pleasant. Then oddly enough a week ago I attempted to articulate this experience to a friend at a party (not knowing the term ASMR – nor even aware that it was a known thing, I simply described it as this peaceful, totally non-sexual, relaxed feeling I get from watching cats grooming themselves). Against all odds, this friend said, “oh, you’re probably experiencing ASMR – you should look it up.” Needless to say – it’s nice to find that indeed there’s an entire community of people online that have the same capability. Thought I’d share my experience and ask a couple questions.
The video was designed for people who experience “ASMR”. Short for “autonomous sensory meridian response”, ASMR is a euphoric feeling certain people get from specific auditory stimuli. Those who experience it have different triggers – such as whispering, chewing or tapping – and also experience different bodily responses; some feel tingles, others become incredibly relaxed.
And then there’s the cooking. You can watch as someone on the ASMR cooking channel Sound Croquette makes mozzarella sticks, Nutella crepes, fried chicken and more. In some cooking videos, the artist whispers all the while. In others there is no talking, only the sights and rhythmic sounds of cooking — frying, cracking an egg, boiling water, chopping, mixing and stirring.
I’ve had these triggers for years, going back to when I was around 8 years old. Years later, while watch Bob Ross, on PBS, I noticed that I fell asleep, and awoke 30 minutes later, totally relaxed. This happened with several other television shows as well as watching people involved in repetitive tasks, such as the lady at the gym, sweeping the floors or while having the hygienist clean my teeth. All I know is this: Whatever it is, it feels good in the back of my brain. This reminds me of my son’s study of binuarals-the constant tones, which, when experienced via headphones, causes different reactions, such as enhanced creativity or inner-peace. Perhaps those involved in Music Therapy will find this helpful in the treatment of their brain-injured patients. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was given music therapy as part of her rehabilitation. It’s nice to have the internet to share these things.
In the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR, published in Perspectives in Biology in summer 2013, Nitin Ahuja, who was at the time of publication a medical resident at the University of Virginia, invited conjecture on whether the receipt of simulated medical attention might have some tangible therapeutic value for the recipient, comparing the purported positive outcome of clinical role play ASMR videos with the themes of the novel Love in the Ruins by author and physician Walker Percy, published in 1971.