Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, is an experience some people have where they feel a particular tingling sensation derived from a variety of stimuli. These stimuli are mainly centered around more intimate movements and actions, including hair brushing, caressing, tapping, and other sounds.
ASMR was recognized widely by society recently, being dubbed ASMR in 2010. Before this, those who were able to experience the classic ASMR tingling did not have a name to the feeling, and were left to find similar individuals in internet communities. Today, multiple “ASMR-tists” have emerged in popular culture, creating ASMR content that focuses on various stimuli that cause tingling sensations. Combining audio and visual stimuli, these videos depict a range of situations where these stimuli may arise, triggering the viewer to experience the ASMR sensation.
Because of the relative newness of ASMR, little research has been done on the experience at large. Little is known on what causes the sensation, and how much of the population actually experiences ASMR. However, in a 2015 study in Social Neuroscience, it was seen through brain scans that those who experience ASMR are less likely to inhibit sensory and emotional response – meaning, those who experience it may not be able to control their emotional reaction to their stimulated senses.
Other studies that have been done to research ASMR have shown that those who experience the tingling sensations experience other positive benefits to their overall being. Following an ASMR video viewing, those who felt the tingling sensation reported higher levels of excitement and calmness, as well as lower feelings of sadness and stress as compared to others who don’t experience ASMR.
Due to these heightened feelings of calmness and relaxation, many use ASMR videos to help them sleep. Beyond this, ASMR has even been shown to lower heart rates and increase skin conductance. Though ASMR tinglings may seem sensual in nature, it is important to note there is no link between ASMR and sexual arousal. Those experiencing sexual arousal typically also experience a relatively increased heart rate, while ASMR does the opposite.
But why can’t some people experience ASMR? Based on brain scans, it was seen that ASMR stimuli trigger the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, which contributes to our ability to process social information and behavior, as well as self awareness. Though not confirmed, some scientists think ASMR may develop over a lifetime, leaving some more susceptible to experience it than others. Other research suggests ASMR may be linked to past life experiences, specifically during childhood, that invoke a sense of feeling nurtured or taken care of.
Beyond being able to feel ASMR, some people get the opposite effect – there are many people who experience negative sensations from ASMR stimuli, including feelings of anxiety or anger. Those who have these adverse experiences may have a condition called “misophonia”, meaning hatred of sound. People afflicted with misophonia typically have a deep hatred of chewing, yawning, and other sounds.