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.
The ASMR Research & Support organization—which is trying to kick-start scientific research on the phenomenon—puts sensation seekers into two categories: Type A is relaxed by their own thoughts, like meditation. The more common Type B relies on something external to stimulate their euphoria, like listening to a pen scratch paper or a whispering voice (the latter is so common that ASMR is sometimes called whisper therapy).
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.
Try out a few of the most popular ASMRists (as they're known) on YouTube, like Ilse of TheWaterWhispers, Maria of GentleWhispering, or Taylor of ASMR Darling. Each of these channels covers a range of triggers and, while some videos last upwards of 30 minutes, most ASMR enthusiasts report tingling after only a few minutes of concentrating on the sounds.
Among the category of intentional ASMR videos that simulate the provision of personal attention is a subcategory of those specifically depicting the "ASMRtist" providing clinical or medical services, including routine general medical examinations. The creators of these videos make no claims to the reality of what is depicted, and the viewer is intended to be aware that they are watching and listening to a simulation, performed by an actor. Nonetheless, many subjects attribute therapeutic outcomes to these and other categories of intentional ASMR videos, and there are voluminous anecdotal reports of their effectiveness in inducing sleep for those susceptible to insomnia, and assuaging a range of symptoms including those associated with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.