What Is ASMR?

Woman using brush to make ASMR sounds

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What Is ASMR?

ASMR 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.

What Does ASMR Mean?

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. Autonomous means that the feeling is in your body, sensory means that your senses perceive the feeling, meridian refers to the energy of the feeling in your body, and response indicates that the feeling is a response to 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. 

This article covers the ASMR definition, how ASMR feels, as well as the physiological impact of this phenomenon.

Who Experiences ASMR?

Just like not everyone gets chills when they listen to emotional music, not everyone experiences ASMR. At this time, there hasn’t been enough research on the phenomenon 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. 

The best way to know if you experience ASMR is to think of whether you get "chills" or a shivery sensation in response to certain stimuli. If you experience this pleasurable sensation when you hear, see, smell, or touch something, then you probably do experience ASMR.

It is important to note, however, that everyone responds to triggers differently. One person might experience the feeling in response to the sound of whispering, while another person might feel it when someone plays with their hair.

Research also suggests that people who experience ASMR may also be more likely to also experience synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon in which one sensation triggers a separate perceptual response such as seeing sounds or tasting colors, for example.

History of ASMR

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

Different online forums have been abuzz for quite some time with people sharing their experiences with "brain tingles" or "brain orgasms." But it wasn’t until 2010 that Jennifer Allen, a frequent contributor to these internet communities, decided to elevate the discourse and give the feeling a name.

She hoped that by doing so, she would make the experience 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. 

Spreading the Word

Craig Richard, a professor of physiology at Shenandoah University in Virginia, reached out to Jennifer Allen in 2013. The two collaborated to make an online survey about ASMR, which would go on to receive more than 30,000 replies. The survey asked questions about what types of sensations people experience during ASMR, what type of ASMR experience they prefer, and more.

The goal of having people fill out the survey was to collect data for an eventual global study on ASMR. Richard went on to found ASMR University, an online resource that educates, informs, and collects information on ASMR experiences.

Viral Videos

Research on ASMR may still be limited, but meanwhile, more and more people who long thought their experiences with ASMR were an anomaly have been 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 in listeners and viewers.

Signs of ASMR

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 can occur 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 Dr. Giulia Poerio, a professor of psychology at the University of Essex who wrote a peer-reviewed research article on ASMR. "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."

People who experience ASMR report feeling:

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

Types of ASMR

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

Stimuli that evoke an ASMR response can involve certain situations or the sense of sight, touch, or sound. Some of the most common ASMR triggers include:

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

How to Practice

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. 

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 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. According to Poerio's study published in the journal PLOS One, 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. 

Impact of ASMR

A 2018 study performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on ASMR-sensitive participants while they watched different types of ASMR videos. The researchers found that the following areas of the brain were activated:

  • Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC): This region of the brain is associated with social cognition and caring for others.
  • Medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC): This region of the brain is linked with self-awareness, social cognition, and social behaviors. Oxytocin binds to mPFC receptors and promotes relaxation.
  • Nucleus accumbens (NAcc): This part of the brain is also linked with controlling feelings of reward, satisfaction, and other emotions.

The mPFC and NAcc, along with the insular cortex and left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), were parts of the brain activated in participants while they watched ASMR videos. This is significant because they're also parts of the brain that are known to activate when people engage in affiliate behaviors, which are care-receiving or caregiving acts.

When people engage in these affiliate behaviors, the brain releases dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, which promote comfort, relaxation, and sleepiness. This could explain why ASMR-sensitive people report less anxiety and stress as well as better sleep as a result of watching ASMR videos.

Previous research also suggested that people who experience ASMR may have higher levels of empathy than those who don't. This likely relates to the fact that the parts of the brain linked with social cognition and social behaviors are activated during ASMR experiences.

Tips and Tricks

If you want to try and experience ASMR or reap some of the potential relaxation benefits, there are some things that you can do that may help:

  • Find your triggers. Everyone responds differently to ASMR triggers, so the key is to figure out which ones cause a response. Start paying attention to how you feel when you see, hear, or touch certain things. If you ever feel a tingly, pleasurable sensation, you are possibly having an ASMR reaction to that trigger.
  • Practice alone. Find a place where you can sit quietly and pay attention to what you are feeling. Try concentrating on a specific part of your body, such as your arms, and gently brush your fingers over that part of your body.
  • Try ASMR videos. There are plenty of videos online that cover a wide range of trigger situations, sights, and sounds.
  • Wear headphones. You may be more likely to experience ASMR if you watch videos while listening with a pair of high-quality headphones that are able to produce high-quality sounds.

Potential Pitfalls

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 Poerio's 2018 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."

What's Next?

Every day, new people learn about the ASMR videos online. But as popular as these videos and communities are, not a lot of research has been done on ASMR—though more is underway. 

The study by Poerio and colleagues 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 in the brain when someone is experiencing ASMR, how ASMR affects sleep, what percentage of the population experiences ASMR, and its potential therapeutic benefits. For example, how could ASMR be used 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.

As more research is carried out, we may also learn more about the therapeutic potential of ASMR to help relieve symptoms of insomnia, stress, depression, and anxiety.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. ASMR University. ASMR research project.

  3. ASMR University. About the founder — Dr. Richard.

  4. 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. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(6):e0196645. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0196645

  5. Lochte BC, Guillory SA, Richard CAH, Kelley WM. An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)Bioimpacts. 2018;8(4):295-304. doi:10.15171/bi.2018.32

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By Lisa M. Gerry
Lisa M. Gerry is a freelance writer and editor who has written about mental health, happiness, travel, social activism and more.