I get this response, but I don't always like the feeling. If someone pulls down a projector screen, like those found in classrooms, i get a tingling sensation all over my body but I don't associate it with a pleasurable feeling. It's almost like nails on a chalkboard. I feel the same way about listening to a violin. The whispering though is a pleasurable ASMR response for me.
Listening to a binaural recording through headphones simulates the binaural hearing by which people listen to live sounds. For the listener, this experience is characterised by two perceptions. Firstly, the listener perceives being in close proximity to the performers and location of the sound source. Secondly, the listener perceives what is often reported as a three-dimensional sound. This means the listener can perceive both the position and distance of the source of sound relative to them.
As ASMR has started to come to mainstream attention, researchers have finally begun trying to answer that question. Neuroscientists are now experimenting with fMRIs and electroencephalography to see if the brains of “tingleheads,” as they are called, are any different than those who don’t tremble at the sight of napkin-folding. They’ve also surveyed tens of thousands of people who say they experience the phenomenon. So far there are intriguing—if limited—findings suggesting that ASMR may relieve some people’s symptoms of stress and insomnia, and that the brains of those who experience it may be organized a little differently.
But, as Wired UK reported, there's another side to the subculture: Kids as young as 5 years old are making their own ASMR videos — and making good money in the process. Wired spoke with 13-year-old Makenna Kelly, who makes ASMR videos for the 1.3 million subscribers to her "Life with MaK" channel. In some of her most viewed videos, Makenna eats instant ramen noodles and glides makeup brushes over a microphone.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a nonclinical term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who’s been involved in online organizing around ASMR since the late aughts. Allen, who works in cybersecurity, figured people couldn’t discuss the phenomenon unless it had a name—ideally, an official-sounding one, to lend legitimacy to a practice that can be embarrassing to share. Once ASMR had a name—and had been featured in a slew of can-you-believe-this news stories—academics became interested in pinning down what it was.
But for the most part, the people running actual research studies on ASMR are optimistic about the future. And it bodes well that the first paper published on the sensation adhered to the principles of open science. “Psychology is going through a period of change, where we are looking at how good our methods are, and how reliable and reproducible our findings are,” Davis points out. “I don’t see research in this area as any different from other fields of psychology. We were very keen to be very open about our work, and we uploaded our complete data set so anyone can check our results, or find new things that we hadn’t considered. This sort of openness doesn’t solve every problem in psychology, but we thought it was a good start.”
Yet despite its challenges, further research into ASMR comes with the tantalizing potential of helping us better understand of the brain. For psychologists, it could also help enhance treatment plans for anxiety and depression, at least for some people. More poetically, it might help us understand how people feel loved. “But mainly,” says Smith, “it’s just cool.”
The uncharted territory isn’t what people experience, Richard says, but how (some people are triggered through their own thoughts and memories; others through external sights, sounds or touch) and why. To help find answers, Allen and Richard’s team launched its first rudimentary ASMR research survey last month. It received more than 4,000 responses within the first 10 days.
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.