ASMR is a phenomenon known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and most people experience it as a tingling sensation that occurs in the area of the base of the neck and covers the head and sometimes the shoulders or spine. The tingly feeling usually produces a feeling of relaxation or pleasant warmth, and it is usually stimulated by some kind of auditory or visual trigger. It has also been referred to as having a “head orgasm”, “brain massage”, or “spine tingle”.
Many people get the ASMR sensation when someone is speaking in a soft, pleasant voice, or by certain sound triggers like softly rustling papers or sometimes music. You might also feel the sensation from singing bowls, deep baritone notes by some instruments, or during a guided meditation session. Other triggers for the ASMR response may include:
- Whispering triggers (again the stimulus may be the soft, gentle voice)
- Certain ambient noises (fans, fingers tapping, crushing or crinkling noises)
- Personal attention (someone softly touching you while playing with your hair, or massaging you)
- Role plays (someone talking softly while walking you through a role play for a medical cosmetology procedure, or other act involving the person touching you)
Interesting, not everyone experiences ASMR in response to these triggers. While some people may feel relaxed or pleasant when exposed to some of the previously mentioned triggers, they may not get the actual tingling sensation or sensation of warmth in their head and neck. So who actually experiences ASMR? Why does it occur? And what does it mean?
Because the phenomenon is fairly young in the public consciousness, not much research has been done into why exactly some people experience ASMR. However, some speculate that it may be a function related to bonding, as it generally produces pleasant feelings in response to another person giving you personal attention or care. Until relatively recently, circa 2007 or so, no one even really had a name for the sensation, until the rise of social media contributed to more people talking about it and sharing their experiences. As a result, most of the information we have on the sensation is anecdotal.
Now, people create entire YouTube channels devoted to ASMR stimulation videos, where soft-voiced hosts crinkle paper and pretend to give you a facial, while their audiences zone out and get their tingle on. It sounds a little weird but it’s amazingly popular and has people asking “Why are millions of viewers watching this woman scratch paper in a dimly lit room?”
Researchers have started to gather data on the subject and develop studies to learn more about it. They’ve found that many people are seeking out ASMR stimulus to help them sleep, relieve stress, and even combat pain and depression. One study found that the brains of people who report ASMR reactions may be connected in different ways from other people without ASMR reactions. The study looked at brain imaging between people who reported ASMR and those who did not. They found differences in how the brains of people with ASMR responses reacted to different stimuli, including what areas of the brain “lit up” and how well those areas connected with other parts of the brain. The researchers concluded that “it is possible that ASMR reflects a reduced ability to inhibit sensory-emotional experiences that are suppressed in most individuals”. In other words, people who have ASMR responses tend to be highly sensitive.
ASMR has also been associated with the phenomenon of synesthesia, a condition in which people see numbers as being a certain color, or “taste shapes”. The conditions may share some overlap in how the brains of people who experiences these things are wired. However, more research needs to be done to fully understand both conditions.
Another study found that people who experience ASMR, or Tingleheads, as they affectionately call themselves, scored higher on measures for “openness to experiences” and neuroticism. Researchers still don’t really know why one person experiences ASMR while another person doesn’t. But there is potential for therapeutic applications, as Tingleheads are already reportedly inducing ASMR to combat insomnia, trigger relaxation, and reduce negative feelings associated with depression and anxiety.
For now, it appears that there is no danger or negative side effects from triggering ASMR, and it appears to be a pleasant and beneficial exercise for those with an ASMR sensitivity. If you are a Tinglehead, think of ASMR triggers as just another tool for coping, and count it as a unique strength. You may be more sensitive than others, and have more of those sensory-emotional connections. Luckily for you, you also have the ability to tap into your own relaxation triggers and facilitate that warm fuzzy feeling.
You can check out lots of ASMRtists (yes, they have a name too) by searching on YouTube, but here’s a link to a popular ASMRtist on the Gentle Whispering channel.