Botsa Katara // Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism attributed to “a sensory phenomenon typically characterised by electrostatic-like tingling across the scalp, following the line of the spine downwards, extending to the arms and further depending on the intensity of the response” (1)[1].This sensation is triggered by certain auditory, tactile, visual and cognitive stimuli acting upon the sensory apparatus of ASMR sensitive people. Author Jennifer Allen was one of the first people to have documented the sensation and coined the term ASMR. Initially, she Google searched the terms “tingling head and spine” or “brain orgasm” to no avail when one day she stumbled upon a post on a message board, “Steady Health”:

Weird Sensation Feels Good – I get this sensation sometimes. There’s no real trigger for it. It just happens randomly. It has been happening since I was a kid and I’m 21 now. Some examples of what it seems has caused it to happen before are as a child while watching a puppet show and when I was being read a story to. As a teenager when a classmate did me a favour and when a friend drew on the palm of my hand with markers. Sometimes it happens for no reason at all. [2]

 Analogous to the aforementioned account is Andrea  Seigel’s vivid description of ASMR as  “starbursts that open on the crown and then sparkle down at the nape like this warm, glittering water rushing under your scalp. (50)”[3]. She further asserts the therapeutic efficacy of ASMR on her mental wellbeing stating that “ [it] calms my anxiety.” [4] These remarks are pertinent to the current article, for they not only bring to the fore a previously unacknowledged sensation and affect but also gesture toward its untapped therapeutic abilities. The scant research on ASMR has revealed that the physiological changes induced by it can serve to ameliorate insomnia, depression and anxiety and can help promote mental calm. According to Professor Craig Richard, the founder of the ‘ASMR University’ blog:

 A lot is known about the physiological states associated with ASMR – relaxation, euphoria, comfort. It’s the same molecules involved when an infant is comforted
by its mother. It’s endorphins, it’s oxytocin, it’s serotonin. The serotonin aspect might explain why some people who have ASMR use videos to calm themselves and treat insomnia. (55)[5]

Considering that YouTube is the main source of ASMR content with many channels counting millions of subscribers and views per video, it is crucial to delve into what constitutes an ASMR video. What kind of videos are highly watched? And why? Typically, an ASMR video has an acute sonic dimension comprising highly focussed and repetitive sounds such as whispering, scratching, and tapping in accompaniment of slow hand movements. These videos are interpersonal and conversational in nature with the ASMRTists providing exclusive attention to the listeners by mostly employing second person pronouns. Research suggests that videos devoid of this relational and communicative attribute fail to elicit calming and relaxing tingles.

According to a 2018 research paper, the most common ASMR triggers are[6]:

  1. People speaking softly
  2. Getting your hair played with/brushed
  3. Whispering
  4. Close personal attention
  5. Getting a haircut
  6. Interaction with face or head
  7. Tapping on hard surfaces (e.g., wood)
  8. Watching people do things in a careful, attentive way (e.g., filling out a form)
  9. Hand movements (visual)

These triggers reveal that a social and intimate (but non-sexual) atmosphere is indispensable in conveying the best ASMR experience, which takes us back to its anxiety and depression alleviating character and may provide some early cues as to why and how well-being could be fostered simply by virtual attention. It cannot be ignored that these videos conjure up a safe and calm setting for an individual to feel cared for and looked after and to become more connected with his/her inner peace without judgements or external interruptions. Such a backdrop, albeit simulated and temporary, enables listeners/viewers to unwind and indulge in a mental zone that is conducive to nurturing a healthy and reliable mental space.  

Research on ASMR has consistently shown that “ASMR videos regulate emotion and may have therapeutic benefit for those that experience it . It is notable that the reductions in heart rate… are comparable to those observed in clinical trials using music-based stress reduction in cardiovascular disease … suggesting that the cardiac effects of ASMR may have practical significance” (15)[7].

 Despite its widespread prevalence on YouTube since 2010, ASMR remains an under-explored subject of enquiry. The scarce research done on the subject has revealed promising therapeutic prospects which may take us to more reliable and cost-effective healthcare solutions. The rapid surge in grueling stress related ailments suggests that this is a propitious time to start investigating the untapped healing potential of these obscure “weird braingasms”.

[1] Barratt, Emma L., Charles Spence, Nick J. Davis, and Bob Patton. “Sensory Determinants of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): Understanding the Triggers.” PeerJ 5.10 (2017): E3846. Web.

[2]Lauren, Jamie. “How ASMR Became a Sensation?”. The New York Time Magazine. 7th April 2019,

[3] Morris, Mark. “A Simply Marvellous Reaction: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and the Desk Tutorial.” Architectural Design 88.2 (2018): 50-57. Web.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Giulia Lara Poerio, Emma Blakey, Thomas J Hostler, and Theresa Veltri. “More than a Feeling: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) Is Characterized by Reliable Changes in Affect and Physiology.” PLoS ONE 13.6 (2018): E0196645. Web.

[7] Ibid.

Image by Meriç Dağlı via Unsplash

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