ASMR: The Pleasurable Tingling in Your Head

You probably thought you were the only one to experience that pleasurable tingling that starts in your head. As it happens, you're not the only one, but it's also not something everyone experiences. Those of us who are blessed with what has been labeled ASMR have difficulty describing it to others, or making it sound reasonable, but it is what it is: a pleasurable tingling brought on by certain social experiences.

I thought I was alone in having this experience for most of my life. I first became aware of the sensation when I was about 11 or 12. A younger cousin was playing with his toy cars on a bed, and when the car reached me, he treated my leg as part of the terrain, a hill of some sort I guess. Then I suddenly felt this tingling in my head, felt a little sleepy, and was overcome with feelings of benevolence toward my cousin. As I grew up, I would occasionally experience the sensation. I liked it very much. Everyone who experiences it knows it's extraordinarily pleasurable and even addictive. Of course, I hadn't yet become addicted. The sensation was so rare and unpredictable to me then that I could scarcely have imagined being able to seek it out.

Fast-forward a dozen years and we have a breakthrough for ASMR experiences: YouTube. Before we had to await those quiet, peaceful moments when we'd find someone working silently on some task, when we'd go for a haircut, or when some show-and-tell scenario would occur. No longer. We could now type in "my collection" on YouTube and have instant ASMR. Sure, I would have to search through a few videos before I found one that did what I wanted it to do, namely create that sensation, but it was worth it. I always felt a little weird doing this, a little exploitative, because I knew people made collection videos to show off their collections, not to have some guy getting tingling sensations from seeing them touching their possessions. So, I never really tried talking to anyone about it. One time I brought it up to a friend and he had no idea what I was talking about. I might as well have asked him how many wings a troobaplop has.

One night, about a week or two before the time of writing, I typed "flipping through a book" into youtube, knowing such a video might trigger the pleasurable sensation and, with it, help me fall asleep. I found a video with 'ASMR' in the title and a description in which the uploader claims to flip through a book and run a paintbrush over the pages. This activity seemed to be so abstract, so obviously intended to create the ASMR sensation, that that's exactly what it had to be: a video designed to give viewers that pleasurable sensation. I glanced in the related videos and noticed more of this "ASMR" business and immediately googled it. Lo and behold, I had discovered that I was not alone after all, that many people had this sensation and has begun to talk about it, think about it.

Unfortunately, from what I gather, all discussion of ASMR comes about only with the internet. The term ASMR was one invented by one of the earliest writers on the sensation. I personally don't like the term, as I find it needlessly convoluted and vague. However, the term has gained significantly widespread use, to the point that I see no value in challenging the term. So let's continue to speak of ASMR. While the term gives a veneer of 'scientificality' to the experience, the truth is, there is little to no research on this sensation prior to the last two years and that research is all of the introspective variety from those of us who experience it. Lots of introspective data is not to be disvalued, however. While one person doing introspection may not yield the answers, the experiences of many can certainly help. In what follows, I hope to contribute by basing my analysis of ASMR on my own personal experiences with it.

ASMR seems to me to have two modes of cause:
1. Physiological
2. Psychological

Of the Physiological variety, there are
i. Visual triggers
ii. Aural triggers
iii. Tactile triggers
To my knowledge, no-one has ever reported tastes or smells causing ASMR and I certainly have never had such an experience. However, seeing (i) someone silently manipulating certain objects or flipping through a book can cause the sensation. Hearing (ii) certain sounds, like flipping pages, crinkling of materials like plastic or paper, or soft speech and whispers can cause it. And having (iii) my hair or the back of my neck stroked can cause the sensation. Often (i) and (ii) are best taken together, though they can be effective separated. (iii) is usually separate, but ASMR is certainly diminished by loud, harsh sounds and enhanced to gentle speech or whispers.

Of the Psychological varierty, the triggers are less easy to differentiate into categories. I also find this form of trigger very rarely discussed by ASMR experiencers, who often focus exclusively on the physiological triggers. As such, I will describe what, in my experiences, psychologically makes me disposed to ASMR. Perhaps from this we can draw some categories. One of the first points to note regarding the psychological trigger of ASMR is that many of the videos designed by ASMR experiencers for other ASMR experiencers fail or are not as effective as they could be due to their self-awareness. As they are intentionally designed to give me the ASMR sensation, I find, paradoxically, that they are less effective at doing so. The naivete of those videos of collections I used to watch was part of the experience that made them so effective. The question is, why? What makes them different? The main difference, it seems to me, is one of whose attention is solicited. When the video is trying to serve me and I am, as it were, soliciting its attention for creating ASMR, the experience is weakened. However, when my attention is solicited, as when someone is genuinely trying to show me their collection of Yu-Gi-Oh cards or whatever the case may be, then the experience of ASMR is much more effective.

We may not yet want to stop our explanation, though. I don't think the buck stops at the solicitation of attention. Part of the experience is that I don't care about Yu-Gi-Oh cards. I really couldn't care less about those cards. To most people, watching a video in which someone displays their collection of cards that one cares nothing about would be boring. For me, the video is strangely soothing and pleasurable. It doesn't just solicit my attention, it solicits my benevolence as well, my kindness to show attention toward this person on a subject that has no interest to me. My attention has no purpose for me, no purpose at all really, other than to show this person the attention they seek. This is even more effective when it is done in person, because it is directly and clearly my attention that is sought, whereas the video seeks the attention of any who will press 'play'.

If I return to the experience in which I first noticed ASMR, when my cousin ran his toy car over my leg, I think I can say now what made the experience trigger my ASMR. 1(i). The visual of my cousin quietly playing with his toy car. 1(ii). The sound of the toy car moving along the surface of the bed and my cousin's soft car sounds. 1(iii). The physical touch of the toy car rolling over my leg. 2. The benevolent attention solicited in allowing myself to play the 'mountain' for his toy car game.

That is the cause. What about the effects of ASMR? Again, I will divide the effects into the two major modes.
1. Physiological
(i) Tingling sensation in the head
(ii) Heavy eyelids, drowsiness

2. Psychological
(i) Feelings of benevolence
(ii) Guilt

The tingling sensation, which is so pleasurable, everyone who experiences ASMR knows. The drowsiness is familiar to us all as well, as many of us, I've learned, watch these videos as an aid to sleep. What's rarely discussed, again, are the psychological effects of ASMR. I find myself feeling very benevolent after an ASMR experience. Yes, one could say the sheer relaxing power of ASMR could trigger this. That may be the case. I don't think it is a full explanation for just how benevolent I feel after an ASMR experience, however. I find myself especially benevolent toward the one who causes the experience. Again, this seems to me more than just gratitude for the experience. What I conjecture is that the pleasurable tingling in the head may be causing, caused by, or merely occurring together with the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a brain chemical known to produce feelings of benevolence, a chemical researchers have found can be released just from attention by a clever salesman. It's also released by orgasms, which is why we feel benevolent toward good sexual partners and why make-up sex is so successful. So we could add a hypothesis, that there is a third Physiological effect, 1(iii) Release of oxytocin.

The second psychological effect may be puzzling, even to those who routinely experience ASMR. I have not had time to peruse forums to see if other ASMR experiencers feel this way, but I find myself, after the experience is over and sometimes before it begins, feeling I am quite creepy for pursuing this experience. Perhaps because it is a physical pleasure, and perhaps because the pleasure is--especially if I'm right about the oxytocin--loosely similar to an orgasm, there's something masturbatory about seeking the ASMR experience. Watching videos made just for ASMR is fine; it's ASMR porn. Watching videos of children showing their legos, however, can make one feel very creepy, exploitative, and predatory. With this come certain feelings of guilt. Of course, I don't believe there is truly anything perverse about ASMR. Whatever the reason some of us have this experience hardwired into us, its source is likely one born in infancy from something like our relationship to our mothers, when mother strokes our hair or sings to us to put us to sleep. If it is indeed genetic instead of environmental, then its evolutionary value may be one to do with maternal or paternal roles, whereby we feel benevolence toward our children. This is purely conjecture, of course. But they're plausible suggestions. I see nothing plausible in seeing something sexual in the experience of ASMR.At the time of writing, I really have no more to contribute on the topic. I have described my experience and how I've thought about it over the years, particularly in the last two weeks. I hope this information helps someone, those who experience it, research it, and those who are just curious.

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Comments 21 comments

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Good to see you back on HP Arthur! I have never heard of or experienced ASMR, so thanks for all the information. Do you think that your guilt could be connected to your time as a Catholic, as they do tend to put a downer on every physical experience?


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 4 years ago Author

Thanks! I won't be writing regularly, alas, but I had something to say and this is the best place to say it.

I wonder just how many people do experience it and why not everyone. Interesting.

I don't know. It could partially be that. But I think it's that it's receiving physical pleasure from someone without their volunteering it or even being aware of it. Just feels kinda 'pervy'.

Cheers!


Mr. Braingasm 4 years ago

OK I am really glad I have found people I can talk to about this. I have had these symptoms for as long as I can remember, I am 29. Until now, I have only found 2 people in real life that has these sensations. One is an old childhood friend who is also a photographer like me. It took a long time for us to realize how deep our similarities went when we established that we both have this feeling. The second person is my wife, she makes me rub her head every night to produce this feeling. She doesn't understand the social experiences that I do though, Ill explain...

For me there are the "typical" triggers:

-when people type extremely fast

-pronunciation of certain sounds while whispering

-pooping (don't ...)

However, it is the social aspect that (for me) enhances or creates the feeling in itself.

Observing people who perform habits that are seemingly normal to that individual but very odd to me, this is a ASMR trigger. It is important that the observee does not know that they are being observed or else it ruins the feeling for me. That is why I would never reveal this secret to people I know, in case I watch them for the sensation. If they were to know that they were being observed for this feeling it would certainly make me self conscious and make it impossible to focus on them and zone out.

For instance a friend of mine likes to pick things off his scalp and forehead when we are just sitting around watching a movie or something. Don't ask me what he is picking (scabs?)… it's a very gross habit. The flicking sound that he makes over and over triggers the sensation. As much as I just want to say dude! what the f#@% are you doing? I don't because it makes me feel so calm when he does it.

When people flip through channels and stop shortly on stations that pop out to them, that sets off ASMR…BUT ONLY IF IT IS A REALLY BAD CHOICE of channel. The bad taste is especially important in this scenario.

Watching people paint, draw, or doodle. Bob Ross was always a fav show of mine for this reason. It is an especially strong feeling for me when that artist is really bad at drawing/painting yet believes they are really good or trying to be really good but not succeeding.

Adults (especially older women) playing video games or very concentrated on a word puzzle. The best plane ride I ever had was from Michigan to NY. I was zenned out for hours watching this lady (maybe mid 50s) play what looked like the dumbest, most pointless hair salon-themed game on her large laptop. The player would earn coins which made a small chime. I felt that perhaps this was the feeling of a zen master. Or maybe this is what people speak of when they experience spiritual zen?

Watching people read magazines is good, but when the reader is flipping through a really bad magazine or just looking at the advertisements of an airline publication, it is especially strong.

A peer of mine on my high school track team was very odd to say the least. One track meet he was sitting on the opposite side of the bleachers by himself with the teams medical kit with a bottle of foaming antiseptic hand soap. He would pump the soap into his hands and rub it in then reapply. He did this process over and over for about 15-20 minutes. Just when he would appear to be finished and the tingling would subside, he would continue to apply and the sensation would be twice as strong each time leaving me in a calm, zen-like state.

I was in statistics class in college and a pretty girl sat one row over and towards the front. I watched her day after day sift through her hair strand-by-strand for (what i believe) was split ends. When she would locate the hair she was looking for she would pinch the end of the hair then tear it out of he scalp in one fluent movement downward. Then she would repeat that process. She later in the season moved to the other side of the class (I have a feeling someone may have told her I was staring at her obsessively). I must have seemed creepy although I was not sexually aroused whatsoever. It is another kind of arousal.

When I am driving in the slow-moving herd of cars that is the Long Island Expressway in NY, I always am looking out for smokers. For some reason I like observing people's habit of cigarette smoking (mainly flicking). This sets off my ASMR. When I see a smoker I will often ride their bumper in order to stay behind the car and observe the driver. You have your smokers with the entire arm hanging out the window and an occasional tap, then wait two seconds and drag, then another drag and arm out the window, tap, tap. Very predictable those taps, and these are the thoughts that enhance the experience for some reason.

When people eat potato chips (especially in quiet places) it really sets it off. For some reason the feeling is enhanced when the cruncher is overweight, or the only one eating, or its just not that appropriate of a place to be eating potato chips. Also if they try to be quiet when they eat it actually enhances it. And when people go to every effort to finish every crumb and drop of sauce on their dinner plate

I used to have sleepovers with a friend of mine. He had this funny habit of eating ice. I had bunk beds, I slept on the top and friends would sleep on the bottom. At night when we would watch tv I would make sure my friend had a cup of crushed ice to crunch on. I would say " hey man Im going to the kitchen to get a snack, you want ice?" Meanwhile I just wanted to get him some ice to eat. He would crunch it up then when he opened his mouth I heard all the ice bumping around and crackling. That sound really set off the chills.

I may seem like a wacko to many people but this feeling is real and it just makes me happy and content no matter what situation. Standing on lines at the dmv all of the sudden becomes pleasurable if you know what to look for in the people around you. I really want to know why this happens for me. It is an amazing feeling and I have no doubt that I am addicted to it and actively seek out ways of producing this feeling. I have been searching for triggers my entire life. I just want answers to these unexplainable feelings.


Keith Michael Virgo 4 years ago

Hello everyone,

My names Keith, I'm a certified Reiki practitioner from New York. Ive been working with energy healing for quite a few years now. That euphoric feeling you have, ASMR,sometimes described as little electrons on your brain and skin, is considered energy, something very familiar to those who study energy healing. Many people, including myself, have been able to call this feeling into our bodies on demand, for meditation. What a a great time to be able to tap into the key to living life complete, with no threat of disease or pain ever coming to effect you. With this ancient knowledge that every religion and race talks about, you can control your individual reality by understanding the science of the natural laws of the universe. Learn about Human Auric energy fields & Chakras, science based consciousness, and learn to welcome in universal life force energy healing techniques. If anyone is interested in hearing more about the answers to similar feelings that you may have been having and you'd like to talk more, i'd love to hear from everyone.

Good day,

Keith Michael Virgo

Life Force Healings

Whitestone, NY

keithmichaelvirgo@gmail.com

tel:7one8-77two-70one4


DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago

Interesting, hadn't heard about this ASMR phenomena before.


SilverGenes 4 years ago

Well, well, well... I should have known you tingled. So do I and my fav is when someone is cleaning my house. That is a win-win situation and no, I'm not kidding. It is based on activity around me but oddly, it has to be a cleaning service or I get all guilty and that is not conducive to euphoria. There is a whole collection on YouTube called Spanish Whispers that is meant to produce the sensation although it does not create the sensation for me the same way as specific activities. Watching a master create calligraphic symbols on page after page works for me much better. :)

Good to see you!


Kyleasmr 4 years ago

i was very amused to hear bout asmr. although i have experienced asmr for as long as i can remember i never gave it much thought assuming everyone experienced it. my 2 biggest triggers are haircut and being read to or having something explained to me. in addition to the pleasure in my head my palms and bottoms of my feet become increasingly sensitive and intensifies the longer the episode last. rubbing my feet on carpet during asmr intensifies it greatly, sometimes to the point where i have to stop cuz it gets to pleasurable. i feel kinda special that not everyone can expiernce asmr. has anyone ever tried to induce asmr while having an orgasm,lol?


Shae 4 years ago

I am so glad I found this. I have had this since I was young (I'm only 19 though). Mine is triggered when I watch someone do a task. Especially if it involves anything medical. Lets say I'm watching a video on a head to toe examination. When I watch anything like that it feels as though I go into a complete trance. My whole body starts to tingle. My heart beat and my breaths slow down. To me it feels as though my body shuts down but my brain is still paying attention to what I'm seeing. I dont have any complaints about it lol I use it as a calming mechanism for the most part


Ambrose Burnside 4 years ago

Every now and then I Google 'brain tingling', or 'brain buzzing' or something hoping to find some info on this. Finally I've found something! I've been experiencing it for as long as I can remember. In school, sometimes when the teacher would talk over my shoulder, and that would cause it, now as an adult, when I get my hair cut it sometimes happens.


Binary 4 years ago

Hi :) Is this the same as when someone puts a hand on your body and it feels like a tingle at that part the hand put on? I experience this when a girl does that (I am a boy) and it feels very addictive. Btw I also don't mean this in a sexual manner only related to the tingling. Also when I hold something (like a pen) to the middle of my forehead, not touching but very close, this gets me a fuzzy feeling in my head. :)


Johnny 4 years ago

Finally! I have from thought process. I make it happen.


Kevo1986 profile image

Kevo1986 4 years ago from Scotland

Interesting article, I have had these experiences for years now, but I have found that since I have started meditating I started getting triggers which are not so clear and more frequently occurring outside, especially in the country side. I have no real explanation for this.


sharewhatuknow profile image

sharewhatuknow 4 years ago from Western Washington

I am so glad that you posted this hub Arthur. I too have experienced ASMR since I was a very young girl. I thought I was weird and have never discussed this with anyone I know. Now I am relieved to learn that many others, possibly everyone, has ASMR.

And as you stated Arthur, watching those videos on Youtube from folks that are trying to induce ASMR in those that are watching, just didn't do anything for me. The usual triggers for me is having my hair brushed and watching certain body massage videos. I used to work as a client service rep by telephone, and on a very few occasions did talking to someone over the phone trigger an ASMR response. For me, being gently physically contacted or watching gentle physical contact is my trigger.

Watching people eat, those who type fast, or those who smoke- flicking their ashes, doesn't do anything for me.

I am a part-time caregiver for an 82-year-old man, and on many occasions have noticed that while doing something with my hands, such a putting ice in a glass, or taking pills out of a bottle, he will stare intently at my hands. So I know he is experiencing ASMR too.

Voted your hub interesting and useful.


Angie F 4 years ago

I get asmr triggers, one would be when someone whispers certains sounds with the "s" sounds and "ck" sounds, another is pages turning I absolutely love it when someone turns pages and their fingers rub against the paper creating a crisp friction sound, I get tingles on my head and neck and if I scratch my stomach and neck with my finger nails lightly the tingles go all the way down my legs lol! Another trigger would be when a lover whispers and breaths in my ear sending chills down my neck.. Yes, I think there should be more information on why only certain people like us experience this pleasurable feeling...


Damon Von Danger 4 years ago

I just realised why I enjoy going to the dentist so much! It's not a strong ASMR experience but it is there. It's definitely stronger with a haircut for me, probably because it's a far more relaxed experience. All the same, I enjoy going to the dentist and I was starting to think there was something weird about that.


Future Lee 3 years ago

oxytocin & melatonin

not by relaxation(it's result) but by concentration on myself with heightened consciousness


John Titor 3 years ago

This is something that has happened to me since childhood, and I have never heard anyone else mention it happening to them, except through places like this online. I was actually trying to describe this to a coworker, and what the triggers were. Seeing people involved in minute habits, especially grooming, tends to set it off. First time I remember it happening is when my father was clipping his fingernails.

I don't like the term "braingasm" et al. as it's not all that intense. To me it feels just like a spine / neck tingle. Sometimes I am also overcome with a sudden and solitary nervous "shiver" (unrelated to cold), and I speculate it's off a similar nature.

I figured it was some primate grooming response that scientists were aware of already, but I had just never been made aware of a proper name. Seems like someone needs to study this for real. Where's the grant money?


Drew 2 years ago

This sounds like the same thing that happens to me when I take a drag from a cigarette. The best way I can describe it is a brain freeze without the pain. I don't know if this is the same or not but this is the closest I've come to finding the answers I'm seeking for. I want to know what causes the "nerve firing" in my brain usually after taking a drag. I've been smoking for several years but it seems like it's getting more common.


Airboss 23 months ago

I am overwhelmed to have finally discovered a scientific explanation for the tingles I get. I remember as a young child watching Bob Ross paint and I would get these relaxing pleasurable Tingles on my head...my neck...my arms...it was almost euphoric. Then today I'm listening to the classical station on XM and they're playing Barber's Adagio for Strings and it sent this wave through my whole upper body. It was amazing.


BananaAccident 10 months ago

Great overview over the topic, thanks a lot! I love how in depth you went about the different causes of ASMR and I think you're right that many videos designed to trigger ASMR are not very effective but they are there for a reason. I'd rather watch videos where I don't know that there's a trigger, you get a pleasant surprise AND the tingly feeling we all yearn for, but unfortunately those are very hard to come by. You maybe stumble upon them by accidents every few months but that's it. If you're like me and know what your triggers are it gets much easier. My biggest trigger for example is the sound of crackling tin foil. Here is a good video demonstration: https://youtu.be/uEtPs1AtxBI And while you know what will happen before you watch the video, it still works! At least for me, you probably get triggered by something else entirely.

I'm not sure how long this works, though. From what I've heard after a while certain triggers stop working and you have to look for something else. But as long as it works... :)


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