ASMR: A Brief Introduction to the Euphoria Within


Ever get a case of the tingles?  Usually they start at the base of the skull, and spread in a gently pulsating manner to the temples and scalp. Sometimes, the tingles move in the opposite direction, starting with the scalp and working down toward the upper spine. It is an usually pleasurable, soothing sensation, and it usually has a duration between a few seconds to a few minutes.  It is often triggered by subtle audio or visual stimuli.  These triggers often include watching someone who is engaged in a slow, deliberate task.  It can also be triggered by sounds, such as the opening of a package, or the crinkling of cellophane.  Another trigger can be soft voices or whispers.  Most people who are aware of the sensation struggle to put it into words; many even assume that it is a sensation only they are aware of.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a not-very well understood phenomenon; the term was coined only as recently as 2010.  Very little research on ASMR exists.  It is apparently not something experienced by all people, nor are all people who experience it consciously aware of it.  Those who are aware of ASMR episodes may not even be aware that they are a thing at all, and that there is a name for them.

Common ASMR triggers
Common ASMR triggers

Some have described the sensation as a “brain orgasm” although that term is misleading. Unlike an orgasm, there is no build-up to a climax. Rather, it is mare akin to a tide gently moving in and out.  ASMR also does not seem to be triggered by stimuli that is sexual in nature.  It has been compared to an electric current, static electricity, goosebumps, and even bubbles in champagne, but none of these are particularly apt descriptions.  While the sensation appears to be primarily physiological, those who experience it also describe accompanying feelings of calm, well-being, and a mild euphoria.

ASMR appears to happen randomly and without effort by the person who experiences it. However, one who has experienced it frequently is sometimes able to induce it simply by recalling or imagining trigger sounds.  There does not seem to be a consensus as to whether or not one gender experiences ASMR more than the other; it appears to occur with equal frequency in men and women. It is also not something that is age-dependent; it occurs in children and the elderly.

Heather Feather, ASMR video star, with one of her trigger sounds.
Heather Feather, ASMR video star, with one of her trigger sounds.

As with anything else, a huge cottage industry has sprung up catering to the “ASMR crowd”. The most obvious manifestation of this industry are the dozens of ASMR “practitioners” who upload videos of themselves engaged in activities intended to trigger an ASMR response in viewers. One particularly well-known and dedicated YouTube practitioner is Heather Feather, who has been making videos on a regular basis for three years and has achieved a sort of celebrity within the ASMR community.  Her videos, which are typical of the genre, often include whispering, counting, finger tapping, paper crinkling, humming, role playing, and other scenarios designed to induce ASMR.  Most ASMR practitioners are female although there are some male ones as well.  ASMR videos appear in many languages, with Japan and Korea producing a large number as well.  Other well-known ASMR video uploaders are Fairy Char, GentleWhisperingOlivia’s KissperMassageASMR, and Cosmic Tingles, among many others. Some are better than others, and one’s own response may vary from practitioner to practitioner.

Some ASMR practitioners create video with sexualized content as well, although there is dispute as to whether or not a true ASMR response is even possible during sexual arousal; most persons in the ASMR community (yes, there is a community for everything!) claim that ASMR and sexual arousal are two completely different things.  Other practitioners create ASMR tapes as sleep or meditation aids, although there is no evidence that ASMR is in any way related to feelings of sleep either.  However, its general euphoric properties make it a good stress reliever, which may aid in sleep.

If ASMR is not yet a household word, it is getting there.  Since the term was coined six years ago, the phenomenon has been reported in magazines, newspapers, and television with increasing frequency.  Academic research is also being conducted on ASMR, although the physiological causes are still not clear, nor why particular stimuli seem so effective in triggering it.  Until then, just relax, put on an ASMR video, and let the tingles take your troubles away.