In 2015, two psychology researchers at Swansea University in Wales published the first peer-reviewed research study on the phenomenon, in which they tried to do the bedrock work of describing and classifying ASMR. After surveying 475 people who report experiencing “the tingles,” they found that a sizable majority sought out ASMR videos on YouTube to help them sleep, and to deal with stress. Most viewers found they felt better after watching these videos and for some time after, including those who scored high on a survey for depression. Some of the subjects who suffered from chronic pain also said the videos decreased their symptoms.
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.
She made her first ASMR video in February 2011, filming herself as she leafed through a journal and played with seashells. The video logged just two views in a month, and Maria was so disappointed that she deleted it. A few months later, she tried again; this time, there were a few encouraging comments. She kept at it, and by the end of the year, she had 30,000 subscribers. Nearly three years later, she has more than 300,000.
The only way someone can feel what we here, obviously feel, that isn’t inflicted with ASMR. Is to go out with friends, to your favourite club, drop pure MDMA, and wait….I’ll see you on the dance floor. I’ll be the six foot seven Infantry Soldier, waiting for you to come dancing, I’ll be dancing with the biggest smile on my face, for you, dancing with friends, lovers, strangers, until we’re all fucking annihilated, lying on the dance floor, in one mind, one moment, one achievement, shared and experienced together, forever and ever and ever. Then we go home, have a shower, lie down, and feel refreshed, and wonderfully happy, exhilarated just to exist, Lying there, that very moment, is what ASMR feels like. That beautiful feeling of peaceful serenity and contentment, just to be alive and kicking, together, connected, forever. That chemically induced empathic euphoria, is the only feeling that comes close to what ASMR feels like.
But given its popularity, why has the psychological research community neglected the sensation until now? There could be lots of reasons. For one, it’s an inherently personal, private experience, and perhaps one that hasn’t traditionally lent itself to cropping up in conversation all that often. That, coupled with the fact that it’s a difficult sensation to explain to someone who doesn’t experience it, may go some way to explaining why there wasn’t even a term to describe it until 2010. “Before the online community existed, I’ve heard many people who experience ASMR say they thought they were the only ones that experienced it,” says Barratt. “I think the lack of evidence that ASMR was experienced by such a huge group of people may be why it was overlooked, or written off as an oddly described version of frisson (‘goosebumps’), in the past,” she adds.
The study asked a range of questions about where, when and why people watch ASMR videos, whether there was any consistency in ASMR-triggering content, as well as whether individuals felt it had any effect on their mood. There was a remarkable consistency across participants in terms of triggering content – whispering worked for the majority of people, followed by videos involving some sort of personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. For the most part, participants reported that they watched ASMR videos for relaxation purposes, or to help them sleep or deal with stress. Only 5% of participants reported that they used ASMR media for sexual stimulation, which is counter to a common perception of the videos found online. “There are a lot of people who latch onto some ASMR videos involving attractive women and dismiss what we found to be a very nuanced activity as exclusively sexual. Our findings will hopefully dispel that idea,” explains Barratt. “The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person,” adds Davis.
Think about nails scratching a chalkboard for one second. Are you flinching? One study found that this sound literally accelerated the participants’ stress levels, quickening heart rates, heightening blood pressure and even altering the skin’s electrical conductivity. In the study, the scientists discovered that—when stimulated with this screeching sound, the auditory cortex interacted with the amygdala, which controls responses related to fear and emotions.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a curious phenomenon. Those who experience it often characterise it as a tingling sensation in the back of the head or neck, or another part of the body, in response to some sort of sensory stimulus. That stimulus could be anything, but over the past few years, a subculture has developed around YouTube videos, and their growing popularity was the focus of a video posted on the Guardian this last week. It’s well worth a watch, but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been a bit more interesting if there had been some scientific background in it. The trouble is, there isn’t actually much research on ASMR out there.
Most importantly for Hunnicutt, Aoki seems to love making videos. Like most five-year-olds, she loves trying on her mother’s lipsticks, but unlike most five-year-olds, Aoki was encouraged to rummage in her mum’s make-up bag – and a camera captured the results. “I put all the lipstick on!” Aoki grins, explaining this video was her favourite to make.
I’ve had this my whole life. I was ecstatic to find there was a name for it and other people that might understand it! I love it but it also bothers me when I can’t stay awake in a library or even a store sometimes if there is a trigger sound near me. I have slept through much of school and fallen asleep on the job (usually during breaks) from work environment sounds since my first job. I keep reading about the great side of ASMR but there is also this annoying one. I probably wouldn’t trade it in though!
Plus, it’s logistically difficult to study a phenomenon that requires quiet and prefers solitude. As Smith points out, fMRI machines are noisy and EEG tests (which Smith’s team also tried) involve attaching “goop and sensors” to the scalp, potentially interfering with the ability to feel tingles. As Smith puts it, “the tools we have are not relaxing.”
“One of our main aims is to try to draw attention to ASMR as a topic worthy (and capable) of scientific research, in the hope that it might galvanise future research efforts,” they explain. Of the group, three of them (Emma, Giulia and Tom) experience ASMR, whereas Theresa doesn’t. The study is still in an early stage – data collection has just finished – but this diversity in experience, they believe, is a critical component to their research. “So we starting thinking about how we might first and foremost investigate this phenomenon at the most basic level: what might it take to convince someone who doesn’t experience ASMR that it is a genuine and consistent experience for some people?” they explain. “Theresa doesn’t experience ASMR, and has valuable scepticism of the experience. It adds to the diversity of our research group and the questioning of our approach from a non-ASMR perspective,” they add.
One part of that forage into “Deep Baby Brain” involves introducing you to ‘YouTuber’ CuteKid4950, and his tub of Strange Creatures goo. He starts off with the usual setup, doing his piece to camera before getting out the gunk. But then… things get weird. “Expanding upon the YouTube infotainment vlog format,” Drenge said, “CuteKid4950 takes us from kitchen to basement to warehouse to cave and emerges unscathed and enlightened. We can see the time and space properties of the real world crumble into insignificance. Unusual patterns emerge. Colours and shapes of forgotten solar systems reveal themselves amid the paint and the goo. This is more than something to keep you lightly amused. People will tell you that you are mad. They will try to denounce you. Ignore them. Let history be the judge.”
However, Tony Ro, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said in an email that the University of Winnipeg study “is unfortunately not as revealing or informative as it could have been,” given its small size and the fact that researchers were measuring subjects at rest, rather than while experiencing ASMR. The resting state differences could be due to other factors, like higher rates of anxiety or depression, he says. Still, writes Ro, who researches synesthesia and has also been intrigued by ASMR for a few years, “I do think that ASMR may be a form of synesthesia.”
The term ASMR was coined in 2010, but the audio and visual-induced sensation has always existed. If you've ever experienced that cringe-worthy, face-scrunching feeling you get when you hear nails on a chalkboard, ASMR is the exact opposite. It's the chills you get when you hear a beautiful voice singing. It's the prickly sensation when you hear or see something soothing, without having to physically touch it.
Hi! I am not sure if I experience ASMR or not. The only thing that I know is when someone whispers, speaks (low/high notes) close/near my back I get chills/tingles/tickling sensation. But when the sound doesn’t travel straight to my back, I dont get chills. I have been searching for answers and ASMR is the only thing close to it. I hope that you guys can help me. Thanks.
“The YouTube slime craze has left us beguiled. What’s behind our connection to these polymer-based environmental hazards?” they asked, before describing ASMRtists as “auteurs of online content” whispering “spine-chilling ASMR magic” which absolutely fair enough. “‘Can you hear that?’ they whisper as they slap the wet, submissive, colourful blob on their clean counter surface.” And that made Drenge wonder whether there’s “a deeper connection,” some way to explain why ASMR attracts and affects so many people (myself included). “Amniotic fluid? Anal retentiveness? Dipping your fingers into a wobbling pot of slime is surprisingly calming. You can almost feel your pupils dilate when watching a pair of hands sink into a fresh pot of goo. It’s comparable to stepping into a pristine snowy field or discovering an untouched continent of the world. Slime makes you believe unbelievable things.”
Same. I tend to do round scratches with my hand at the top of the head crown to intensify the tingles. And like one dude (https://www.reddit.com/r/asmr/comments/3lrmyx/question_what_exactly_is_the_brain_orgasm_of_asmr/), my toes curl and eyes roll up. Rubbing hands, palms and inner wrist to be exact, against something or against each other. Same with feet.
Wow similar and different from me. I listened to ASMR every night for about 6 months when I felt tingles for the first time. It was for probably less than 2 seconds, then a month or two passes before it happens again. But it is happening more often but still randomly. Some weeks I do not get the feeling, other times it is multiple times a week. But every time it is for less than 3 seconds. I am questioning if it is just pins and needles but feels nice because the asmr is so soothing. But you are the first person I have found who had a “delayed” experience. My brain might just be making this up due to my repeated listening and intense research into the subject.
From my experience with ASMR videos in the last three weeks, I’ve never had one trigger the kind of episode I had with my uncle. However, that doesn’t mean the ASMR videos had no benefits. The biggest, I’ve found, is that the right ASMR video works like a charm in sending me to sleep. In fact, ASMR videos seem to be better at sending me to sleep than most sleep hypnosis videos I’ve found.
Okay, science may never explain the shoe thing. But scroll through these lists, and the array of triggers is largely consistent: classical music, haircuts, movie trailers, Bob Ross, more Bob Ross, lots of Bob Ross, the painter best known for his popular instructional videos. Forget the bucolic landscapes; these Ross fans are fixated on his calming baritone and the rustle of his brush on the canvas.
I would spend all Friday, Saturday drawing outlines with my 3 best friends, discussing art, colour and symmetry for hours, then spend all Saturday night bombing trains, painting together would activate it intensely, in the dark, spooky and exhilarating all at the same time, while four kids spent their weekends silently breaking the law to paint Top-to-Bottom Wholecars just for art’s sake)
These reports have precipitated comparison between ASMR and synesthesia – a condition characterised by the excitation of one sensory modality by stimuli that normally exclusively stimulates another, as when the hearing of a specific sound induces the visualization of a distinct color, a type of synesthesia called chromesthesia. Thereby, people with other types of synesthesia report for example 'seeing sounds' in the case of auditory-visual synesthesia, or 'tasting words' in the case of lexical-gustatory synesthesia.
The majority of the ASMR community online is focused on ASMR videos. These are videos which are designed specifically for triggering people’s ASMR. They are often very relaxing, even if they don’t trigger your ASMR reaction. Most of the videos you will easily find on You Tube are what is called intentional ASMR videos, but there are also unintentional videos. Unintentional videos are videos that were originally made for another purpose but just happen to provide ASMR triggers for some people. Many ASMR video creators are expert at creating guided meditations, however production values vary greatly from video shot from iPhone cameras to complete 3D sounds and special effects.
Replies to this post indicated that a significant number of other people had experienced the sensation which "okaywhatever" described - also in response to witnessing mundane events. The interchanges precipitated the formation of a number of web-based locations intended to facilitate further discussion and analysis of the phenomenon for which there were plentiful anecdotal accounts, yet no consensus-agreed name nor any scientific data or explanation.