What Is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response?

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It is the term used to describe a tingling, calming sensation some people report experiencing in response to close personal attention or certain audio or visual stimuli.

Not everyone experiences ASMR, but for those who do, they describe a pleasant tingling that starts at the top of their head and sometimes travels down the spine and limbs, accompanied by feelings of blissful relaxation and drowsiness. 

Who Experiences ASMR?

Just like not everyone gets chills when they listen to moving music, not everyone experiences ASMR. At this time, there hasn’t been enough research on the experience to estimate what percentage of the population has it. For many who experience ASMR, they first notice this happy, calming sensation in their youth in response to someone paying close personal attention to them or watching someone carefully perform a task. 

Situations that might elicit this response for those that experience ASMR include having their feet measured at a shoe store, someone applying makeup to their face or cutting their hair, watching someone carefully fold a sheet of paper, being checked into a hotel, or a teacher thoughtfully explaining something to them on a worksheet.

Different people have varying ASMR triggers, and people experience them at varying intensity. 

One way to see if you experience ASMR is to watch one of the more than 13 million videos on YouTube that were created to simulate experiences that might trigger ASMR. 

Is This a New Phenomena?

For people who experience ASMR, the realization that they feel these pleasant sensations when exposed to certain stimuli is not new. However, for many, the fact that there is a name for this experience and that others experience it as well is new information.

Naming the Experience

While certain parts of the internet have been abuzz for quite some time, sharing their experiences with "brain tingles" or "brain orgasms," it wasn’t until 2010 that Jennifer Allen, a frequent contributor to ASMR communities online, decided to elevate the discourse and give the feeling a name. She hoped that by doing so, she would make the condition more credible in the eyes of scientists, researchers, and ASMR-skeptics. 

Even with a new name, though, it wasn't until five years later in 2015 that the first peer-reviewed, scientific study was conducted on ASMR. 

Viral Videos

Meanwhile, more and more people who long thought their experiences with ASMR were an anomaly began finding comfort in like-minded communities of "tingleheads" online. Over the past decade, creators of ASMR videos, or "ASMRtists," have become incredibly popular, with fan-favorites like GibiASMR, GentleWhispering ASMR, and ASMR Darling amassing millions of followers on YouTube.

ASMR video creators use high-definition microphones that pick up every mouth noise, whisper, and finger flutter (a popular trigger) to try to stimulate an ASMR reaction.

The Latest Research

Recently, researchers at the University of Sheffield conducted a study to measure the physiological effects of ASMR on people who experience it. "I am one of those people who have experienced ASMR for as long as I can remember," said one of the study's authors Guilia Poerio, Ph.D., MSc.

"But, I didn't realize it was something that other people also experienced until 2013," she continued. "As I began to speak to people about it, I realized that quite often people who don't experience it find it really hard to believe—they think it's somehow weird or creepy, or that it's not a real thing. One of the motivations for this study was to provide an objective test for whether ASMR is a genuine, physiological experience. Hopefully this will provide support for ASMR and get it into the public domain."

Fear of Sharing Experiences

For some who experience ASMR, there is trepidation about sharing their experiences for fear that it will be misunderstood as sexually perverse or deviant. "There's sometimes a lot of shame and guilt associated with the experience of ASMR," said Poerio. "Some people feel guilty experiencing this kind of pleasure when they don't know that it’s something that other people have experienced as well." 

However, as those who experience ASMR have long attested (and this most recent study confirmed) ASMR is not about sexual arousal.

"Something that I really do hope comes out of this research, as well as more widespread recognition of ASMR as an experience, is that people don't have to feel like they have to hide [their ASMR experiences] or be ashamed of [them]," said Poerio. "I still see people who feel like that, and there's no reason that they should. I hope knowing that they're not alone is useful."

Self-Soothing With ASMR

What those who experience ASMR do report feeling is relaxed, calm, and sometimes sleepy. Some have even said that they use ASMR videos to help them cope with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Through their research, Poerio and her colleagues determined that people who experience ASMR had a significant reduction in their heart rate while watching ASMR-inducing videos, compared to participants who do not experience ASMR.

In fact, on average, those who experience ASMR had a heart rate decrease of 3.14 beats per minute while watching ASMR videos.

This rate is comparable to reductions seen in clinical trials for other relaxation methods including music and mindfulness. 

What Makes ASMR Unique

While ASMR shares some similarities between the chills some people experience when looking at an incredible painting or listening to a moving speech or piece of music, physiologically the phenomena are different. The effects of ASMR are understood to be calming and somewhat sedating, while chills are more physiologically arousing.

The tingles from ASMR originate at the top of the head, whereas with art and music-induced chills they might start elsewhere, like your limbs or spine. The tingly, happy feeling people experience with ASMR is also comparable to the feeling that some get when someone massages their head or tickles their arm and they get chills or "goosebumps."

However, ASMR occurs without any touch. "One of the key aspects of ASMR is that it's a stimulus in a different modality triggering a feeling of touch and relaxation," said Poerio. "So in some ways it's almost like a synesthetic experience. ASMR is not unlike a crossing of the senses in that you're receiving visual and auditory triggers that stimulate an almost tactile sensation. You experience a similar feeling to being massaged on the back of your head, but without actually being touched."

About ASMR Videos

To those who don't experience ASMR, the videos might seem unorthodox. ASMRtists whisper quietly, accentuate mouth noises, and pop their consonants. Video creators will roleplay ASMR-inducing social situations like having one's hair washed, checking out a book at the library, or even receiving a tattoo. Some videos feature someone tapping their fingernails on different surfaces, like the back of a brush, a Tupperware container, or a remote control.

Scratching is also a popular trigger, so someone might scratch their nails along the cover of a book, a coaster or a wicker basket. There are ASMR videos with talking and ASMR videos without. There are ASMR videos devoted solely to eating and some dedicated to the squishing of slime. Often, the creators of these videos are people who say they also experience ASMR and were introduced to the community that way.

To those who experience ASMR and are in pursuit of tingles, these videos are just what they're looking for. In the recent study from Sheffield University, in a survey of 1,002 participants, some of the most popular ASMR triggers were people speaking softly, people using crisp sounds, slow movements, close personal attention, and getting a haircut. 

What's Next?

People continue to discover that the sensations they've long experienced have a name and that there is a community of other people who experience it, too. Every day, new people learn about the ASMR videos online and people are seeking them out in droves. For as popular as these videos and communities are, not a lot of research has been done on ASMR, though more is underway. 

The recent study by Sheffield University was groundbreaking in that it corroborated the anecdotal reports about ASMR and its relaxing effects through physiological data. For Poerio, she says, this is just the beginning.

Next, she would like to research what's happening neurologically and in the brain when someone is experiencing ASMR, how ASMR affects sleep (people say it helps them fall asleep), what percentage of the population experiences ASMR, and the therapeutic benefits of ASMR. How could ASMR be used for those who experience it to help alleviate the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression?

"It's really interesting," said Poerio, "ASMR is a complex emotional experience that some people have and other people don't." She would like to get to the bottom of that as well. 

A Word From Verywell

If you are someone who experiences ASMR, this is an exciting time. Not only is there an abundance of ASMR-inducing content available to you, but so much is being discovered about this experience, and how it manifests physiologically in the body every day.

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Article Sources
  • Barratt EL, Davis NJ. 2015. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ 3:e851. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.851

  • Poerio GL, Blakey E, Hostler TJ, Veltri T. More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. Aspell JE, ed. PLOS ONE. 2018;13(6):e0196645. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196645