ASMR: Sensory Sensation

“In this video I’m going to be playing with my hair and rambling a little bit about my day…” and Violet proceeds to do so for 45 minutes, in a slow, soft-spoken tone. This video has over 440,000 hits on YouTube. Related videos include ‘ASMR Tea Time *Soft Spoken*’, ‘Russian Teacher Relaxing RP’ and ‘Softly Spoken: Face Paint’. Surely some creepy fetish section of YouTube that administrators have not picked up on yet? Wrong.

These videos form part of the ‘ASMR Community’, an inclusive group of people who are able experience a sensation known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ‘ASMR’. The simplest way to explain ASMR to those haven’t experienced it is as a pleasant “tingly feeling” felt at the back of the head, neck and sometimes other body parts such as arms or legs. It’s both a physical and a psychological response, often causing a euphoric feeling and relaxed mind-set. This sensation has also been dubbed a ‘brain orgasm’, ‘braingasm’ or ‘headgasm’. That said, it must be noted that ASMR is not linked to any sexual feeling or arousal and the phenomenon is without doubt an asexual one.

The seemingly-strange YouTube videos aforementioned are ASMR triggers. It would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of triggers; they revolve around sound, sight and touch. Examples include listening to someone whispering or speaking softly – often made more pleasant by an unusual accent or even foreign language; and listening to or watching someone pay close, personal attention to yourself, themself or a specific task. (YouTube examples include makeup artist or customer service role-plays).

Triggers like this cause some to name ASMR ‘AIHO’ (Attention Induced Head Orgasms) or “AIE” (Attention Induced Euphoria). Other common triggers are simply the sound or visuals of, for example, someone tapping their nails on a desk, typing at a computer or crinkling paper. Outside of the ever-popular YouTube community, some may experience ASMR from going to the hairdressers, watching QVC channel or if during a lecture, the lecturer speaks with a slow, soft voice or with a foreign accent.

This type of ASMR is known as Type B, whereby the sensation is caused by an external trigger. Experiencers of the less common Type A can consciously trigger the sensation themselves through meditation, for example.

Presented through this writer – an ASMR experiencer’s – perspective, the information given I have rendered as fact. However, there is almost no scientific evidence to suggest that ASMR actually exists. Many relate it to cold chills or ‘frisson’, a similar – but not matching – phenomenon. The key difference between ASMR and other sensations such as cold chills is the psychological facet: ASMR often enhances mood, and is more relaxing than exciting. It is clear that starting scientific research into ASMR would be a difficult and capricious exercise, hence finding funding for the task is problematic. Despite this challenge, researchers at Dartmouth College in the US are currently exploring the subject.

Many in the ASMR community are keen to spread awareness, in order for more research to be conducted. They also want to encourage others to discover whether they, too, can experience this wonderful feeling – and benefit from it. ASMR has been known to cure headaches and migraines, counterbalance stress and depression, and even treat insomnia. Many ASMR experiencers, including myself, watch these videos every night in order to fall asleep. The effects of ASMR have, so far, only ever been positive. Many people may write this off as ‘weird’ or non-existent, but if you’re curious, I suggest a quick YouTube search for ‘ASMR’ to see if you, too, can experience the tingles.

Zoe McGowan


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