ASMR: That tingly, feel-good sensation that's hard to explain
The tapping sound of fingers striking the keys of a keyboard filled the room. Sometimes a rapid succession of keystrokes cut through the air, sometimes the keystrokes came more slowly. And sometimes, breaks of silence filled the space around me. The room was dark, save for the bright glow of the computer screen.
A tidal wave of keystrokes, like several muted firecrackers firing off simultaneously.
Tap. Tap. Tappity-tap-tap-taptaptap... Rolllllllll...
I lay in bed, floating recumbently through that sphere of consciousness in between wakefulness and sleep. I let the sound of typing wash over me, massaging my mind, smoothing out wrinkles of stress as I drifted off to sleep.
Welcome to my final year of college, when my roommate was an exchange student from South Korea. Due to the time difference, she often communicated with family and friends back home as I was turning in for the day. Many of our nights rooming together ended this way, with her exchanging IMs and emails while I succumbed to the sweet oblivion of sleep, immersed in the sounds of her typing. I enjoyed this arrangement a great deal. My sleeping patterns certainly appreciated it.
This experience in college was not, by any means, my first encounter with what is now known as ASMR. As a kid, I was often lulled to sleep listening to the ticking of the Crayola crayon clock hanging on my bedroom wall. Sometimes, simply watching another person engrossed in performing a task was enough to coax me into a calm, almost meditative state. It never occurred to me that this was an unusual phenomenon that not everyone experienced. I merely accepted it as a normal part of life, like breathing.
What is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it refers to a physical and psychological reaction to stimuli, inducing feelings of calm and a pleasurable tingling sensation. Nicknames for ASMR have included “brain massage,” “head tingle,” and “head orgasm,” which all sound awfully silly to many people, but to a person who experiences these episodes, they are apt descriptions. Other names for the sensation have included “AIHO” (for “Attention-Induced Head Orgasm”) and “AIE” (“Attention Induced Euphoria”).
The term “ASMR” was first coined in February 2010 by the Facebook group Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Group. The group was created by Jennifer Allen, who now acts as the team organizer for the ASMR Research Team. It has since become the most commonly used term for these episodes.
Not a lot of research currently exists on ASMR, primarily because it is a difficult phenomenon to study. Stimuli can vary tremendously from person to person, and, as previously stated, some people do not experience ASMR at all. It is generally accepted that ASMR episodes typically begin with a tingling sensation in the head that then travels to other parts of the body to varying degrees. It is also important to emphasize that ASMR causes a euphoric kind of sensation, but is induced without the aid of drugs or sexual activity.
It has been suggested that ASMR could potentially provide a drug-free solution for people dealing with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Again, no research currently exists to support such claims, and conducting such research has its obstacles. However, individuals report that they typically experience increased feelings of relaxation and even sleepiness when ASMR gets triggered. Some would argue that the effects of ASMR are similar to those experienced in meditation.
Do you experience ASMR?
The ASMR Research Team has divided ASMR episodes into two classifications. Type A episodes are those triggered internally, by the individual experiencing the sensation, through certain thought patterns. Type B ASMR is incited by an action external to the person experiencing it.
External triggers for ASMR can vary from person to person, though typical stimuli include scratching sounds, whispering, rustling paper, water, and writing or typing sounds. These triggers are often mundane, slow, and deliberate actions or sounds.
While most triggers tend to be auditory, they can also be visual or physical. For example, watching another person engaged in a simple task, such as cleaning or painting, or having another person touch one’s head or back, including combing hair or a massage, can all trigger a case of the tinglies. In some cases, simply viewing a piece of art can be enough to induce an ASMR episode. Other times, it can be experienced as a result of having someone else pay close, personal attention to oneself.
Interestingly, some individuals have commented (on the various blogs and discussion forums revolving around ASMR) that repeated exposure to the same trigger can sometimes result in that person developing an immunity to that particular trigger. When this happens, these individuals may find themselves seeking out new triggers in order that they may continue to experience these tingly sensations. ASMR may provide a sort of drug-free high, but it is difficult not to find this particular similarity with drug addiction to be somewhat ironic.
Further reading and exploration:
- The Soft Bulletins: Could a one-hour video of someone whispering and brushing her hair change your life?
ASMR on YouTube
A simple search for “ASMR” on YouTube conjures up hundreds of videos intended to trigger these feel-good sensations. It is an ASMR junkie’s paradise, where one can satiate one’s appetite for known triggers or seek out potential new ones. Some of the more popular videos have literally had tens of thousands of views, and yet they feature mundane activities such as drawing, tapping, whispering, and unboxing new items. Some ASMR videos feature whispered descriptions or explanations on how to do things (like, say, play poker), and still others involve role playing.
I personally could never get into the role playing videos (honestly, I find them a tad creepy), but they evidently work for thousands of other folks. Role plays include makeovers, various medical examinations and consultations, massages, and haircuts. A person watching the video can imagine his or herself in the role of a patient or client being tended to. In this way, ASMR responses triggered by close attention can have their fix too, even if it is an artificial, virtual attention they are receiving.
Sometimes the most telling thing that comes out of ASMR YouTube videos are the comments from viewers. Comments such as “This is better than weed” and “i got so many tingles at this i think i broke my ASMR...” express the appreciation for and enjoyment had by viewers. So long as folks are getting their fix, at least we can find comfort in the fact that this is one high that does not pose a [known] threat to our well-beings.