Chances are you’ve never heard of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). If you haven’t, don’t feel bad; neither had I until about a month ago. I was browsing a reddit when I stumbled upon this thread asking users what “nonsexual things they love, but are afraid to do in front of other because it would be weird.” There’s a bunch of people commenting that they talk to themselves, dance, or pick their noses, but about halfway down the page a redditor going by “username7654321” says, “[I] Watch ASMR videos. Until you understand it, it seems a little strange to someone who hasn’t experienced it.”
What is ASMR? I wondered. So did other reddit users. In a followup comment username7654321 posted a link to this wikipedia page which states, “ASMR is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli.”
Pleasurable head tingling? You can be serious right? I must be getting trolled.
But username7654321 also included a link to a youtube video shown below…which I clicked on. I was stunned. Not only was ASMR real, I experienced it. Even crazier still, was that I had always experienced it, I’d just never had a name for it, nor any idea that other people experienced the same thing.
I began researching. I discovered there are literally hundreds of videos on youtube designed to trigger ASMR. Most of them were similar to those posted by usernamer7654321, but some of them were far more elaborate. There is an entire subculture devoted to experiencing and triggering ASMR. There’s even an entire subreddit devoted to ASMR. Despite the fact that many of the videos are made by attractive females, anybody who experiences ASMR will tell you it’s not a sexual thing. If you don’t believe me, consider that this is my personal favorite ASMR video (yes, I have a favorite). I’ve watched that video enough times to know that you want a half an inch of slack in the front of a buttoned suit jacket.
I wanted to know what was happening physiologically. I wanted diagrams of chemical pathways or explanations of changes in blood metabolites. I at least wanted a neurologist to give me some kind of conjecture about what was causing this pleasant, relaxing sensation for me and millions of other ASMR’ers.
There weren’t any. Nobody is doing research on this! There are forums filled with guesses and hypotheses from laypeople. We all want to know what’s going on, but in all my searching I found not one scientific paper referencing ASMR. We live in a world where we have an abundance of scientific papers that nobody cares about, but nobody wants to investigate a topic that millions of people are dying to know more about.
It’s not a stretch to envision this phenomenon being used therapeutically either. Many people in the comments section on youtube, or the ASMR subreddit state that these videos help them relax after work or fall asleep at night. Also, why don’t some people experience this sensation? Blogger/science enthusiast Mark Zastrow is sitting across from me right now looking at me like I’m a freak for watching these ASMR videos because they don’t cause the same reaction for him. If we understood the mechanism behind the phenomenon, maybe we could enlighten Mark and bring him into the ASMR fold. Maybe would could treat his (completely hypothetical) rampant anxiety by having him listen to WabiliciousWhispers…