I can attest to this being a real phenomenon, at least in that I experience what they’re describing, often when I get a haircut (for as long as I can remember). The most bizarre example of something that triggers this for me is when I get a free car wash with my oil change. Whenever I see people drying off my car, I get the intense feeling that they describe, but only for brief moment. I’m not really sure what that says about me. I don’t like people doing things for me, so I’ve always assumed I get the pleasure out of seeing somebody do work for me (work that I don’t enjoy doing) while I stand at a distance waiting, and for that moment I know that they don’t know whose car their drying off. In that way, it’s sort of temporary reprieve from a feeling of guilt. In other words, I think if I knew they knew the owners of each car ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t get that sensation. Yes, I’m weird.
This also sounds a lot like how some people describe experiencing the presence of the holy ghost. This also fits with some of the triggers since it’s not uncommon for such reports to be in connection to listening to a sermon (accented or unique speech pattern) or a choir (enjoying art or music) for example.
Interesting. I’ve gotten a similar response from certain musical pieces – it’s a tingly head and body rush that happens at very particular points in a song, and it has very similar qualities to an orgasm. It’s even been so intense that I’ve had to pull over to the side of the road while driving and listening to music.
It’s not often though – I probably have only about 30ish songs in my rather large collection that can do it.
First I have heard of this but I guess I have it. For me it’s all about heavy-but-understandable accents (less often understandable-Spanish, a smallish subset of Spanish in my case). Or at least it used to be, I’ve moved to Europe (I’m American) recently so I’m probably getting over-stimulated.
I think its happened during engaging college lectures, though many of my profs had accents, so I’m not sure if that’s separate.
The “watching another person complete a task” doesn’t apply at all to me. The other listed triggers are nice of course, but not in any sort of strange way (whereas with the accents I remember wondering what the feeling was about and only figuring it out reasoning backwards).
This really resonates with me – I actually clicked on the ‘whisper’ link before reading the rest of the article, and started wondering why listening to someone whisper can be so compelling.
I’ve definitely experienced the calming/tingling scalp sensation, especially when watching other people do tasks. But in my experience, it’s more likely to happen if it’s a task that’s somewhat unfamiliar, but has somewhat elaborate steps/techniques that seem to demonstrate expertise and practice and really understanding what it takes to get a job done well. In particular there was a “Best Shoe Shiner in Istanbul” video that I somehow got pointed to a while back – and since then, I’ve seen vids of people getting very attentive shaves and such in barber shops that tend to evoke the same sort of sensation. This used to happen fairly often when I’d personally get haircuts in college – but I haven’t noticed it in a long time. I think it might have been heightened in those college haircuts because I often went to the barber after I’d done a huge all-nighter, then taken a test or turned in an assignment in the morning, and had nothing to do in the afternoon – so exhaustion could possibly make someone more susceptible.
This is really interesting. I’ve always had this really weird feeling–where if something moves across my field of vision in one particular direction, it “feels good”–and the other direction “feels bad.” It’s hard to describe the feelings–the “bad” feeling is sort of similar to rubbing your hand over some rough velvet that gives you goosebumps in a bad way, and the “good” feeling is sort of like sinking into a bath of hot water.
If I concentrate, I can change the direction that feels “good”–but it’s always either left-to-right or right-to-left. The direction even exists in my mind, if my eyes are closed–if close my eyes and move my hand across, then because I _know_ that that good direction is the one that my hand is moving in, it feels good.
I’ve always wondered if it’s some weird mixup in my brain’s wiring that’s similar to Asberger’s or OCD–I feel a small compulsion to satisfy the urge, but I’ve suppressed it pretty significantly growing up (I’m 28 now). It definitely doesn’t dominate my experience at all, but it’s something that once in a while pokes its head into my consciousness.
First time I’ve heard the term, but it sounds like some experiences I’ve had. We were screwing around with it in the lab about 2 years ago with EEG and couldn’t see much, but then we deal with healthy volunteers so have no experience looking for epileptic-type activity, plus uncontrolled n=1 goofing around, etc. etc.
Yup. Yup yup yup. I have a suspicion that “ASMR” as a term was just one of those magical language/meme things, where suddenly there’s a big “THAT’S IT!” moment and the term spread like wildfire.
Since I was a child I loved that “tingly yet super-relaxed feeling” – originally triggered by gentle physical touch, like hairbrushing or playing “crack the egg on my head and feel it trickle”. As I got older I could almost duplicate that feeling by simply watching someone doing something gently, deliberately, and quietly – a soothing voice to accompany it is much better. Interesting that many people seem to remember this from childhood, but it may not carry on as well into adulthood.
I’m no scientist, but I’ve always wondered if it wasn’t just an extension of the primate grooming response. Do chimpanzees relax and feel good when they watch other chimps grooming, not just when they’re being groomed themselves? I dunno.
And could this response be the origin of the “woo” around Reiki and therapeutic touch? I’m about as non-wooey as they come, but it wouldn’t surprise me that such a pleasurable “tingly” feeling could be attributed to energies, meridians*, or magic. Bit of Googling “asmr reiki” shows that idea has occurred to others as well. Wonder if palm-readers, tarot card readers, psychics, etc. have mastered this too. Could it even be related to responses to meditation and hypnosis?
*Came across a great comment on a Metafilter discussion about this : “This needs a name that doesn’t involve the word “meridian,” stat.”
The gift wrapping sounds definitely did it a little bit for me, and I have definitely had similar experiences with music. I actually did get a bit of a tingle from the introductory portion of the Latin video, although hearing the Vulgate with Classical pronunciation was distracting enough to kill it once she got started reading.
I think a reasonable explanation for whispering is the implied intimacy of a whispered conversation, and some other triggering sounds might work because they resemble the sonic patterns of whispering to some degree.
I wonder, though, if the response is at all conditioned by expectation? Especially when searching for ASMR videos on the internet, is seems likely that expecting to be triggered by a video might make one more likely to be triggered.
Certain music makes me feel “extra” in some direction or another. But I’m not sure its this sensation. The only time I recall feeling something similar is when I was in a bible camp and the entire group sang together for about an hour.
I assumed then it was god. Now I think it was the intensity of the group connection. All of us focused on doing this beautiful thing. So, I’m not sure it qualifies here.
I really am jealous of anyone who can trigger such a positive feeling with such an easy trigger.
I have sometimes gotten a feeling like this while looking at books about biochemical processes. Of course, this could just be an intense enjoyment of biology. I don’t think I felt anything like intense tingling. But it is a remarkably sudden, intense rush of enjoyment at the realization of how a protein does this or that or the revelation of an interesting pathway. Neat stuff.
Night has fallen. A soft RAIN begins. You and I, and the rest of our little group are back in the cave. It’s warm and dry. A CRACKLING fire is burning. Someone is chewing something CRUNCHY. An older man tells a story about the day in a SLOW PARTICULAR VOICE, unlike the shouts from each of us as we worked through the day. Then he is silent. You and I are WHISPERING as we GROOM each other. Then, silence, but for the CLACKING of stone on stone as a tool is fashioned. Hypnotized by the thing taking shape under the repetitive strokes, I feel myself relax. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over.
I feel pleasure. And sleep is coming.
The internet provides the whole world access to the cave, where obliging kinsfolk relax one another (sans grooming)
First, I can attest to the real nature of this: I have experienced it many times – This is the first time that someone else has ever described the same thing.
To add my 2 cent piece: I find I get it – yes sometimes when getting a haircut – but not as intensely as when I am listening attentively to someone who I looked up to in some way – usually involving an appreciation of some knowledge or skill the other person has + a personal interaction.
-appreciation of a delicate and good hair dressing while they are cutting your hair meets both these criteria
- More strongly however the feeling seems to manifest when I’m listen to someone who is older and wiser than me about anything. – the more close and personal the conversation (ie 1 on 1) the greater the feeling can be.
I for one would love to know what’s going on in the brain here. I think braingasm is an apt name for this.
The second point I’d like to make is a personal thank you to Dr Novella – I started reading this blog during my first year of biomedical science at university last year – took a critical thinking course on the side too. I must say its always been a great read, well referenced and I often find myself shifting through your older posts – especially brain/medicine related!
Now whenever I think about anything I always don my “skeptical” hat!
“- Viewing educational or instructive videos or lectures”
“- Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner – examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.”
I wonder if this is even partially responsible for the success of the Science Channel show “How It’s Made”.
Not just that, but a lot of responses of the “I can tell you it’s real because it happens to me” type.
It may be real and it may happen to you, but as a skeptic, I would say that just because you believe you experience ASMR does not necessarily make it a real, neurological phenomenon or that it happens to you.
Many people claim that out of body near death experiences are real (in that their souls actually left their bodies during clinical death) because they have experienced them.
Many people know acupuncture/homeopathy/etc works because it worked for them.
Many people claim they know UFOs are real alien flying saucers because they have personally seen them.
I’m not saying I think ASMR is improbable (as the examples are), but as a skeptic I would be more likely to say “this seems to correspond with something I think I experience.” rather than “I can tell you this is real because it happens to me.”
Slow down there a little bit on your criticism. You’re forgetting about prior plausibility. That many people can get “chills” from neural responses to music, emotion, etc. is so plausible as to be almost not worth mentioning. It is drastically different from any phenomenon that invokes the assumption of aliens, gods, souls, and especially magical healing powers of diluted water.
The fact that something is plausible, doesn’t make it immune to conversion disorder, or whatever other form of delusion on the part of the person experiencing it.
My point is just that a lot of comments here are very uncritical, considering the nature of our community.
a) “I can attest to this being a real phenomenon”
b) “First, I can attest to the real nature of this – I have experienced it many times”
c) “First time I have heard of this, but I guess I have it”
The NY girls that suddenly all acquired debilitating tics had a more compelling case than this.
I’m not saying it is necessarily false, all I’m saying is that the fact that it is plausible (which is all that Steven really said), and the fact that people in the comments “have felt it”, doesn’t make it any more real than the dancing virus.
I run the braintingles channel on YouTube that features the ‘wrapping presents’ video mentioned in this article.
It’s brilliant that a respected academic neurologist has written about the topic of ASMR, I really enjoyed the piece. I probably wouldn’t have found this had someone not written ‘Steven Novella brought me here’ in the comments section of the aforementioned video.
Hopefully this will bring the topic to a wider audience.
“In this way it’s similar to migraine headaches – we know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history.”
I think we identified migraines as a syndrome prior to the age of the internet, so reports of common symptoms across the population were a lot more compelling. These days it seems like people feel odd, jump on the internet, and immediately diagnose themselves as having migraines, cfs, morgellons, autism spectrum, or whatever seems the most interesting to them at the time, even if their symptoms are only vaguely in the ballpark. How can we sort out the legitimacy of syndromes for which we have not yet identified any reliable biological markers? Surely reports of common experience aren’t sufficient. Is it just plausibility? I’m thinking of Morgellons, alien abduction, out-of-body experiences, etc. Most commonly with alien abduction, we believe that “abductees” share common stories because they, consciously or not, form their stories using the mythology that’s available in the media, e.g., science fiction and reports from other “abductees”. We don’t give any credence to their reports of the same constellation of symptoms/experiences. I know “close encounters” aren’t really the same as medical conditions, but certainly the victims claim to manifest physical symptoms like sleep paralysis, memory loss, black outs, etc.
I’ll add my anecdotal evidence to the pile. My favourite sources of that amazing feeling are:
1. Reading in a library and hearing the whispering
2. Getting the electric clipper cut around the ears and the back of the neck at a barber shop (also the sound of the scissors and comb clicking)
3. Instructional videos on fly tying
4. Any Bob Ross show
I think we have to distinguish between concluding that an experience is happening vs hypotheses as to what is causing the experience.
People report having out of body experiences, and they report having near death experiences.
We can hypothesize that
- They are not having these experiences and the reports are a combination of delusions, copy cats, suggestibility, attention seekers, or misintepreted other experiences, etc.
- They are having these experiences
This in itself is a difficult distinction to make, because experience is ultimately subjective. We can infer probability from consistency of reports, especially if they appear to be independent (historical accounts, accounts in other cultures, etc.) and consistent in specific details. Once you get cultural saturation, however, you can no longer do this.
Now we also have the potential to confirm the experiences are a distinct entity with fMRI, but that is still tricky.
So – we can also say, if we assume these experiences are real, what might they be, and see if we can come up with anything plausbile or for which there is evidence.
Here, I think we can say that a plausible explanation is that this is a neurological response to a certain type of stimuli, stimulating the reward/pleasure response. I think the grooming hypothesis is very plausible.
Next – how do we test any plausible hypothesis? That is really tricky too. Again I think our best hope is fMRI. But psychologists also have some tricks for setting up experiments of this type of thing, using stealth triggers, etc.
I read this post wondering if this has ever happened to me and then reading over some peoples’ attestations to having experienced the phenomenon….. I think it happens to me when I listen to certain music. Particularly Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto, Holst’s the Planets (Mars & Neptune), and a few others like John Williams’ Star Wars themes (which he took from Stravinsky’s rite of spring, but rite of spring doesn’t do it for me). I like to think that I have experienced this en masse with a large group of people at a symphony concert, when, at the apex of the Mars movement, the audience was palpably enraptured, they broke tradition and applauded between movements, the conductor just shrugged, smiled & bowed. I always thought it was a human-music thing. Our brains & ears are attuned to find pleasure at certain harmonies and musical themes. I think that there’s some theory behind what musical themes induce particular responses (like a minor chord having a more energetic/frantic “feeling” than a major chord). I don’t know for sure but I imagine that other mammals experience similar things with certain sounds. I will have to pay attention to may favorite inter-species test subject (my dog) in the future & see how he responds to music & sounds. I know he likes Star Trek Voyager but dislikes Walking Dead.
“So, with the small caveat that we are not completely sure at this time, it seems reasonable to proceed with the working assumption that ASMR is a real thing.”
Steven, but why would it be reasonable to proceed with the assumption that these experiences are real (as opposed to conversion disorder type of delusion)?
To just assume that they are, even for the sake of the hypothesis cause exercise, generates 20 comments worth of “yup, it happened to me, it’s real” and “i’m the guy that started the fad on youtube, thanks for validating my belief”.
In fact, I would argue this has all the red flags of conversion disorder, and it’d be more reasonable to start with that assumption.
I didn’t realize there was a name for this experience, but I have had it too, and I can trigger it at will whenever I want to. It’s basically a warm, tingling sensation in the back of the neck that spreads over the rest of my body, triggering goosebumps. If I concentrate on it it can become overwhelming. If I weren’t a skeptic I might suppose it was chi or something.
I thought this was something everyone could do and figured it was some sort of brain chemical release. Am I unusual in being able to trigger it without external stimuli? I’d volunteer to be studied but I hear sitting in an MRI is quite tedious.
I find it a bit disconcerting that just because Steve said that it COULD be real, suddenly every “skeptic” fan in the comments lost all critical thinking and assumed it to be real.
Straw man. Nobody said or implied that they were using such reasoning. Not very skeptical of you.
My point is just that a lot of comments here are very uncritical, considering the nature of our community.
a) “I can attest to this being a real phenomenon”
Neil qualified that with “, at least in that I experience what they’re describing, “. You intentionally cut off the part where he acknowledges that his statement only applies to his experience matching a description. That’s not just unskeptical on your part, it’s almost deceptive.
The NY girls that suddenly all acquired debilitating tics had a more compelling case than this.
but why would it be reasonable to proceed with the assumption that these experiences are real (as opposed to conversion disorder type of delusion)?
The first case includes a claim of a non-established and implausible cause, which you imply to be a psychological effect. Not only are people here not claiming to know the actual mechanism for ASMR, but the it sounds like it is assumed to be merely a psychological effect so your dichotomy isn’t even that.
I have these symptoms(and a truckload of other strange things). But the tingling sensation can activated by a lot of things, the euphoria is only rarely(I’ve assumed everyone had these until now).
Anyway, the more interesting thing is that they get somewhat more intense, but not more common by dopaminergic drugs, more common and extremely intense and common by hallucinogens(5HT2A agonists) and dissociotives, nicotine, caffeine or zolpidem doesn’t effect them in anyway.
The second thing that I have and very much like this is HPPD. It’s strange, because I’ve always had it, so I thought that everyone had it and never saw it as anything abnormal or it never posed as an obstacle to me. And I know that it’s self diagnosis, but I’ve had the symptoms since I can remember(also I’m an f–ed up deviant etc. etc.).
@tmac, that’s >5000 search results for ASMR. Some of which have >150k hits/views!
BTW, here’s my own anecdote: I can’t bring myself to watch any of these. Just the idea of watching a video of crackling paper, someone whispering something I can’t understand, fingers tapping on a desk, or any of the others is triggering a small amount of anxiety. My shoulders and neck tense up, my stomach feels twisted, and my heart seems to beat faster and louder. I must have anti-ASMR, because these videos sound terrible to me. Like fingernails on a chalkboard or someone chewing loudly in your ear.
This happens to me. I’ve always called it “frisson,” though. A lot of fans of music have similar experiences with certain pieces of music, as I do (reddit.com/r/frisson). However, I have the same experience with getting a haircut or having my head touched, or even sometimes randomly (the best; can last for tens of minutes if I don’t move). Honestly, it’s better than sex, but different; it’s like a powerful muscle relaxant and an overwhelming feeling of bliss pours from your neck into your body.
OK, I can identify with the description of ASMR as Steve stated it:
“- Exposure to slow, accented, or unique speech patterns
- Viewing educational or instructive videos or lectures”
One of my triggers is both of these in one: I had a teacher at school who had really unusual speech and as a small child would always ask him to explain what we were supposed to be doing, even though I understood, because it made the back of my neck tingle. Sounds kind of kinky now but I can assure you it wasn’t, haha.
“- Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner – examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.”
And again, watching someone draw or paint has this effect on me.
I can best describe it as a warm tingle that startes at the nape of the neck and spreads upwards across the back of my skull like fingers through my hair. If it continues for an extended period (paintings can take a while!) i feel slightly lightheaded.
But for me it’s _different_ to the tingles or chills I get from music or touching poetry.
@ Fudgeh0g: The sensation primarily described in this article is also totally different for me from what I feel listening to a really stirring piece of music (i.e. Planets, etc.), or inspirational speech, or from what I felt during a “good” worship service back when I went to church.
MisterFool- I can trigger the exact same sensation that you are describing,but I haven’t been able to figure out if this is what people are describing here (see the Wiki entry on Frisson/cold chill,which is what you and I seem to be experiencing). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_chill
It seems clear to me that at least some of these descriptions fit ‘frisson’,but not everyone reports the cold chill aspect.I have good control of it,and I can, actually, limit the sensation to my head and neck,and if I do that,and don’t let it spread to my arms and lower body,then I don’t experience the cold chill part of the wave,just the tingly warm sensation in the back of my head,neck,and ears.
It would be interesting to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
My suspicion is that it is tied to the mirror neuron system that is at the center of immediate shared neurochemical brain activity.The mirror system as i understand it has delicate associations with such attributes as empathy,vicarious feeling and trust.I think the common thread or narrative in these recollections is about the cluster of shared experience.Example:concentration,tutorial learning,expository learning.
Maybe it is a vestige of the reward mechanism inherent in the mirror neuron system or
a quirky delivery of a hormone(oxytocin) that is triggered when we are deep in rapport with others
The first time I can remember this sensation was at 7 years old.I was in my front yard building a snowman when two other children came upon me and started to help.They were packing and padding the mid-section,with the only sounds being mitts pounding and breathing.when the tingle came over me,it felt like an accoustic note riding through my body.
When i watch a video of a child experiencing absence seizers i am reminded of what we are referring to as asmr.There is a relaxation of the eyes and an inhibition to outside stimuli.I think the only way to test its legitimacy is analogous to the notion of adhd,being built by case study.
From reading the many testimonials,I have a premise about the physical feeling produced during these episodes.I think the ethereal quality is produced when, watching another involved in some task,we get strong feedback thak we are experiencing that action in spite of our physical body in a state of rest.It might be that what people refer to as an “out of body experience” is a feeling of cognitive reality devoid of physical reality.
I am equally as thrilled about finding this blog as I was when I discovered that I wasn’t the only one that associated all letters and numbers with colors. Actually my cousin and I both have synesthesia and ASMR. I wonder if anyone else has these in common?
I remember when she (cousin) said to me, “I’m going to tell you this only because I know you’ll get it. When I watch my daughter and her friends play I get this tingly feeling in my scalp.” I immediately knew the sensation and we laughed and talked about triggers for a good hour! A funny one we share is a memory from the days of gas station attendants. The guy who pumped the gas would sometimes clean the windows while you waited for the tank to fill. The trigger was the movement of the rubber squeegee across the windshield.
If whispering does it for you, then I recommend the book “The Whispering Rabbit” (don’t remember the author). Have someone read it to you. It’s a kid’s book and they will probably think you are weird but it’s worth it. My mom used to read it to me. Now, when I read it to my own kids, it doesn’t do a thing for me and since my kids hate to read, I suppose I need to let that one go.
I work at a radio station and there are a couple of people with very soft voices who come in to do talk shows and I could sit and listen for hours– but since I’m working, I can only secretly listen for a couple of minutes at a time!
Anyway, this is fun. I love reading about others’ experiences!
And thanks for the opportunity for me to share as well.
Ever since I can remember I have had this “electric rush” sweep down the back of my neck, fly around my thoracic cavity and then proceed into the arms and legs. Sometimes crawling, sometimes sweeping, sometimes pulsating, but always powerful. It feels incredible. It nearly makes my eyes roll back in my head. I figured all people felt this way so I never bothered to ask. Sometimes I would choose profs in college that had accents just so I could feel the rush despite the fact I had trouble understanding the lesson, my attention was focused. Certain sounds such as thick resume paper being caressed or welcome desks with great customer service really fires those signals, but it can work the other way too. When someone rubs felt, such as the lining in the roof of a vehicle the rush happens, but turns noxious and almost makes me want to pass out in disgust. I have always known that it happens so the suggestion it is somehow a learned thing from public awareness is absurd to me. It is completely non-sexual in nature, but can be used to heighten sex if that makes any sense. It can be summoned at will usually by visualizing whatever stimulus would ordinarily cause it. I am unsure of the power other ASMR people feel, but mine is sometimes to the point of overwhelming. I would literally put it at 75% the pleasure of a real orgasm. Not sure how else to describe it. I wish someone would approach me with a study and do an MRI as I feel like my brain REALLY gets into it as I feel it through the entirety of my body even by sheer will.
I would really love to see some legitimate research done on this. I have experienced this feeling ever since I can remember and always thought everyone else felt the same. Sadly the only “research” I can find that is being done is by a group of people who don’t seem to have any real creditials which makes the whole thing seem like some made up hooey. Any researchers out there looking for something new and unique to research should look into this. But I suppose people only like researching “bad” things!
I think asmr and mindfulness are closely related. I actually found out about asmr when I was searching about tingly sensations that I get when I feel like I’m mindful. I don’t meditate formally, but the state of mind I try to have matches the description of that prescribed in mindfulness meditation. I think this is actually important to look into because research into mindfulness is beginning to show its benefits such as improvements for the immune system and maybe asmr could be used as a physical marker to help people learn to be more mindful throughout their daily life. In fact what’s interesting is recently I’ve been more successful at inducing mindfulness by focusing on feeling the tingles being called asmr.
Another interesting and parellel similarity is between mantra/chi and trigger/asmr
could they all be the same thing?
I’m interested in looking into these more scientifically..
Hehehe… brilliant blog. Brilliant. I am a scientist – at nearly 60 years of age, I have known for decades that the SOUND of turning pages is a BIG problem for me. I’m the professor who cannot spend any time in the library.
It matters now how rested I am, when I hear turning pages, it’s like being drugged. I have often joked that I could probably have surgery with the sound of someone turning pages. It starts with a tingling in my head – a lovely feeling – and I am pretty much UNABLE to stay awake. It happens very quickly. My lovely husband calls reading in bed “turning pages for you.” Some nights, when I am having a rough time sleeping, that sweet man will pick up a journal – a few pages and I’m OUT.
I know this is unusual. I always knew it was my neurological wiring – but I thought I was the only person like this. It certainly is not a problem – other than the library – but now we have the Internet, so it’s not a problem at all. My husband has suggested I go to a sound studio and make a recording of page-turning for those sleepless nights when he’s out and I’m lying there awake. Ugh. Hate that. One of the gifts of middle-age, I fear.
I know there is something going on and I would love to see what’s up with my brain under conditions of certain sounds. It works better than Ambien when I have trouble sleeping. I always thought it was an unusual psychological/neurological response to my parents reading me to sleep each night. I no longer thing this. It’s neurological – has to be.
Maybe it’s time for a page-turning EEG. Or even a scan of some sort. Hmmm… what universities might be studying this? Time for me to get onto the brain science database at the university library… thank goodness I don’t have to BE in a library for the research! I would be in trouble!
(P.S. Research for school was VERY hard – I had to photocopy anything I could not check out, and photocopy was EXPENSIVE in the ’70s! But if I did not, I would sit there in the library and immediately fall asleep! Always gave myself a hard time about it back then – thought I was weak. HA! It was my BRAIN. Students are so lucky today…)
- Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner – examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.
This is my favorite trigger; I discovered it in 1998 when I became a Montessori teacher while watching children completely absorbed in a meaningful-to-them task. I described it to my co-workers who had no idea what I was talking about. It is completely delightful and I always thought of it as being mesmerized. I would sometimes get goosebumps and a gentle tickling sensation in my toes.
I can also get the sensation from watching children doing things quietly, such as playing gently with another child’s hair at story time or trying to touch another child’s clothing without that child knowing it. This all sounds very creepy, but it is completely non-sexual and totally relaxing and calming.
Unfortunately I have noticed a decrease in the intensity of the sensation as I get older and can sense certain times that would have triggered it in the past but don’t any longer.
I have always had the sensation when someone gently touches my hair or arms.
It was not until today that I had any idea other people have similar experiences – everyone I know doesn’t seem to know what I mean.
And yes, just reading about this is a mild trigger.
As I type out my response to this Blog, I have ear buds in and I am listening to a youtube ASMR video. I am having head tingles, mostly over my right eye and the right side of my head. I feel drowsy but completely euphoric. I would say from personal experience that the reason they call it a brain “orgasm” is because the feeling is addictive and you are on cloud nine. It is almost hypnotic. I had my first experience with this amazing feeling when I was in the first grade. I needed help with a math problem, and my beautiful blonde teacher gently bent over me, and began whispering how to solve it…asking to borrow my pencil…solving my math problem..I must say my head about hit my desk in oblivion. I could not focus on a word she was saying…all I could focus on was the amazing rush going from the top of my scalp, down the base of my neck, into my spine…and my eyes wanted to roll back into my head.(HAHA)~~I began to realize what was triggering this feeling. For, when she would walk away from me…it ended almost instantly. I started to call her over to my desk even when I had answers because I was addicted to the astounding euporia. As a young female child, my fellow girly friends and I would “do makeup” or brush each other’s hair…which, ultimatly causes the same feeling for me. I’m 27 now, and was having difficulties with insomnia. My doctors prescribed valium and serequel which knocked me two weeks into next month. I quit taking the pills and went browsing youtube in vain one night. Typed in “relax” and found the strangest video on a young woman playing a therapist. At first, I laughed out loud and was like..uhm seriously?? However, she was stunningly attractive, with a soft gentle voice and a brilliant accent, so I continued to watch. About 3 minutes in, I had a “flashback” of first grade. The video being titled ASMR led me here tonight. I am still baffled to this very day by these mysterious WONDERFUL feelings. Since my ASMR “discovery” I have been sleeping like a baby and my anxiety is so much better I do not take the addictive pills my doctor prescribed. I wished that everyone who struggled with anxiety or insomnia could use this very helpful (whatever it is?!?!) but from what I’ve read so far..it appears not everyone can enjoy this. I’m thankful I found this article. It has been a big help. I must admit; for a minute there…I was a little worried that I was crossing over to the weirdo side or that something was seriously wrong with me. I am entirely relaxed now and am enjoying my new found sense of inner peace. Now if only I could find a way to deal with physical pain without meds I’d be doing fabulous. lol Oh and on a footnote, I would instantly take a doctor up on some sort of scan for medical science on this phenomena. I would in a second, do a catscan or mri, or whatever to figure out what is going on here. I am curious beyond belief now.
I HAVE to add…when I watch these youtube videos, that not all trigger ASMR. To get the triggers, they all have to have these things in common;
The person doing the video has to be attractive to me, or “easy on the eyes” it creates a “softer feel” or makes it more “fuzzy”
The lighting has to be slightly dim (I have noticed the women’s pupils are dialated a great deal in some of these videos which sets of a “good feel” for me)
The voice has to be VERY soft with an accent
The person has to appear to be paying extreme “attention” to me
They must be comfortable and methodical
They use special tools, toys, brushes, or whatever to make noises (page turning) and a good 3D mic..
Any abrupt LOUD noise is an instant “turn off” and ruins the mood
To anyone looking for good ASMR videos, (I am a youtube junkie) I recommend ~GentleWhispering, VeniVidiVulpes (Violet), TheOneLilium, and pigsbum53
~I am imagining there are trillions of pleasure bolts zapping around my brain as I cannot get enough and I set my phone up to listen and zone out reaching a point of nirvana into the best sleep ever. I could not imagine how intense one of these “sessions” would be in person?! I must be highly sensitive to these “reflexes”…non of the less I think its pretty awesome!
It’s not what most people who dont expierence it think it is.
for me, its a tingling sensation that starts at my head and goes through my spine and if i REALLY like what im feeling or hearing it can even go down to my hands. Its a feeling that you dont want to stop at all. VERY pleasurable and not anywhere near a sexual way .
Oh it’s real, it might take you a while to change your eating habits to get the sensation.
It’s sensitivity. So the right brain nutrition might help you as well. It does get to be “autonomous” as well. After a while you can spend a whole day with tingles, with relatively no stress or external sensory input at all, it’s quite pleasant.
WOW, I’m so amazed to find this blog and that this is a real phenomenon! For years I tried to explain to relatives, to friends to anyone…i asked if anyone had ever gotten that feeling and I tried so desperately to explain it.
Then I ran into a ASMR video on youtube, searched it because it seemed weird to me and found out the work of Steven Novella, and how i’m not the only one. It’s such a relief to find out that there’s a name to it and I’m not alone.
I don’t care much for the cause or for the study, maybe it’s an evolutionary thing, I’m not sure. I’m just content to know that people are experiencing this.
Thank you for this and i hope maybe someday we’ll have answers!
Oh! Love this stuff! I’m a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a VERY big skeptic. I have tried to explain the very sudden, involuntary, pleasant, physical response I have to certain sounds – the sound of turning pages is a major trigger for me. I dearly love libraries but they are hell on me because everyone is turning pages. I spent thirteen years as a university student and had to photocopy everything I could not check out. It was absolutely impossible for me to read anything IN the library. I would photocopy stacks of journal articles to take home and read. There was no Internet library database in those days.
I feel a physical response that reminds me very much of general anesthesia. I feel a tingling on my head that sweeps down and VERY shortly, I’m asleep. It is extremely difficult for me to stay awake around triggers. My husband can always help me get to sleep if I’m having difficulty by reading for… oh, about four minutes.
Although my subjective impression of this phenomenon is that it’s neurological, I have always tried to give it a psychological explanation. I’m a scientist – my subjective experience is the thing I rely on the LEAST. Give me some solid measurement! I decided that the reason I experienced this page-turning response was the way my parents always read to us at bedtime. I thought perhaps the comfort of being cozily tucked into bed with my wonderful parents reading to me was what put me to sleep. Of course, devoting the most basic THINKING is sufficient to toss that hypothesis – the thing doesn’t feel psychological at all. It feels absolutely physical and is VERY hard to resist. I’ve had general anesthesia several times – it’s quite like that.
I would love, love, love to see some studies utilizing imaging technologies – or even EEG – on people such as me. I was so thunderstruck to find YouTube videos (bless them!) and other people like me. I always thought it was just a quirk of mine. I must say – whatever this thing is, it’s marvelous. It would be grand if we could figure out a way to work out just what happens in the brain… and maybe, just possibly, if it’s not a type of seizure to come up with a way to train the human brain to be able to do it. No one would need medication for sleep with this kind of thing.
Good blog – thank you for all the neat work you do!
P.S. – As for this being a seizure, I’m wondering… I was bone-on-bone with my knees for several years until I had bilateral TKA a couple of years ago. I was on gabepentin for bone pain – and still had a very powerful response to page-turning. Would that suggest that it might not be a seizure? I wonder…
Mine happens for me with the aid of electronic music, typically the very fast, repetitive type. they start as small pulses where the bald spot on my head would be. Sometimes I can close my eyes (at my desk at work) and will them to become more intense by concentrating on the song, until they are shooting down my spine and across my shoulders to my elbows. I have realized that when it is happening i barely breathe, if at all. The longest experience I’ve had was about 30 seconds; I’m trying to figure out how to go longer.
I would like to volunteer for any type of research or data collection group concerning this topic.
I really take offense to this author’s smug tone. I have had ASMR all of my life. Of course, I had no idea what it was and thought that I was the only one who got body tingles when someone whispered or made other certain noises. One day last year, it occurred to me to search youtube for a video of somebody whispering. Lo and behold, there was a gold mind of them. I was really shocked, and learned that I wasn’t the only one. Apparently other people who had ASMR thought to make a video believing there were others like them. So the ASMR is not the phenomenon; YOUTUBE is the phenomenon. Thank’s to the internet we are discovering so many things that have never been discussed before. Thanks to anonymity of the internet, people are less afraid to put their secrets out there in hopes of finding others like them. A lot of people like myself thought this “feeling” was weird and we never talked about it in real life, fearing people would think we were freaks. So that is WHY you think it is a phenomenon. Just because you don’t experience it doesn’t make it not real. It’s like saying if you never experienced cancer, then it must not be real. Ridiculous , right? I’ve had it since I was born and I’m sure it’s been around through out since the dawn of time.
How did you find this article? Is this your first time on this blog? If so, then you should look up the author’s track record. Steven Novella would be virtually flogged if he accepted ASMR without first going through the vetting necessary for setting a premise; there is no scientific research on the matter so far, so it’s important to determine, logically, whether or not the occurrence is more than an anomaly. Don’t be too hard on the guy, and read his other articles.
@ASMR Community / Steve
Do you think the opposite can occur? I find that lots and lots and lots of noises/textures give me an uncomfortable feeling in my brain and in my neck. ( I also feel the good fuzzy feelings for other triggers). I’m talking about the stereotypical chalk-board sensation… is it at all related?
Though I have been chased out of school for my atheism and generally being politically annoying to most people, this is my bookshelf – so people who are skeptical know that I understand what it’s like to be skeptical of some things, but am trying to explain that nobody is hoaxing anyone by explaining that this phenomenon exists: http://imageshack.com/a/img13/8936/sn850624.jpg
ASMR is a very very real and amazing feeling. It is something that will only trigger in my brain when I have calmed it sufficiently and have entered a mild “trance” like state. At this point, while watching these videos, sudden impulses of extremely pleasurable and relaxing “chills” will feel as if they are radiating throughout my body.
The ASMR “chills” are very “electrical” feeling in the sense that if one were to graph the feeling over time, they would appear as infrequent impulses spaced one or two seconds apart, like “graph A” would indicate on this if the impulses were less at regular intervals as pictured on the graph: http://michaeldmann.net/pix_4/gen_pot.gif
The occurrence is most certainly not an anomaly and certainly seems to exist in the many followers of ASMR videos. Any sexual stimulus from it is tangential from the experience of feeling extremely relaxed and in a trusting situation. My guess is most people are capable of having this response but aren’t capable of releasing their social stigma and allowing more “animal” feelings and reactions to take over their body.
Most all cats will love to be pet if you raise them from childhood to enjoy being pet, but almost no feral cat will ever learn to enjoy being pet. For me, it’s very much akin to my willingness to entrust myself to that person’s behaviors and mannerisms. If I’m feeling nervous, I won’t get triggers at all. If the person makes me feel weird, I won’t be triggered. If I feel like I could go skinny dipping with them and talk about my worst fears and greatest dreams without concern for judgement of my body or my thoughts, whether they’re male or female or I’ve a sexual attraction to them or not, I’ll go crazy with the amount of “chills” that can be triggered by the video.
Contemporary society spends a great deal of time trying to deprive and prohibit most mutual grooming behaviors in human beings, but these impulses must still be in the brain somewhere as many primates engage in mutual bonding through grooming. It is my hypothesis that the ASMR feeling is vestigial or a gift (whichever context you would view indulgent sensory responses) from ancestral grooming behaviors.
There will be a very coordinated attempt to suppress any research into this phenomenon. There is a very specific reason for this as many many people employ it to make millions and millions of dollars without explicitly telling the audience it’s a trick.
For example, if I weren’t so disgusted by Benny Hinn and my upbringing in a similar environment, I would be certain that he would be able to evoke ASMR feelings in me and, being raised pentecostal, there were many moments in childhood when I experienced this feeling and regarded it as supernatural:
3rd year medical student here, and ASMR “sufferer.” I was surprised to learn there have been no peer-reviewed studies into the phenomenon. Also surprised to learn that others DON’T experience those sensations. The whispering videos are kinda creepy and not my trigger, but I can certainly attest to a real sensation through my scalp when watching intricate painting. It doesn’t feel so much “euphoria” but more so ease, relaxation and contentment. The amplitude is very low, so I wouldn’t describe it as a “brain orgasm” either.
There is a definite superficial, as well as emotional sensation though, and always in the same region for me. Left scalp, behind the tragal line moving just down to my posterior hairline.
I didn’t know what ASMR was until yesterday, but have felt that ever since watching Bob Ross on PBS when I was 11 or 12.
I also meant to add, to paint a picture for those with no experience of ASMR, that it is like the opposite of “nails on a chalkboard.” – That screeching sound that sends an unpleasant chill down your spine, just imagine the opposite, a different sound eliciting a pleasant sensation that see,s to arrive in a similar manner.
I’ve been experiencing these sensations since childhood. It wasn’t something I talked about. In fact, I still feel apprehensive about the subject, and have only mentioned it to my wife once, and have never talked about it with my friends.
A teacher writing on a chalkboard was an activity that would induce momentary sensations. Looking back I’d have to say it was one of my first triggers. Though I never thought about it like that.
Years later, I realized by accident that origami videos could do the same thing, as would the sound of someone typing – preferably on an old typewriter or a ‘clicky’ keyboard (or like the modern keyboards that use cherry mx blue switches).
One night, while looking for an origami video, I kept noticing a number of videos with ASMR in their names. That’s the night I realized there are a lot more people experiencing this phenomenon than I’d imagined.
These are great videos to help people fall asleep. I find them relaxing.They offset the stresses that comes from working a demanding job. I take ASMR vids with me on my thumb drives, and have mp3 rips of some of my favorites. They’re great to listen to while flying.
Anyway, I’m sorry you were unable to personally experience the effects. I would fully expect these sensations could easily be verified with an EEG, or comparable device.
I can report this – I was completely skeptical of these videos before I watched one. In the last four days I’ve watched a number and had two very interesting things happen. During one video I experienced an extreme sensation of euphoria. It was a bit like a non-sexual orgasm in that I could feel it slowly building up to a climax. While watching another video I fell into a lucid dream/surreal state that only lasted for a few seconds but was bizarre and amazing. I would liken it to the one time I took hallucinogenic mushrooms as a teenager. I really can’t wait to see what Science has to say about this. The whole thing is incredibly interesting.
Have had this my whole life. Remember my grandmother carefully braiding my long hair as a child while she whispered quietly to herself (in a soft Scottish burr). I’d unbraid it and ask her to do it again! Didn’t realize others felt the same way I did while watching Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, Mr. Rogers, and even a late-night show, Bowling for Dollars, that featured the low, whispery voice of Chuck Walby. This tingling sensation in my head has gotten me through countless work meetings when the host has the quality in her/his voice and or rustles papers. It also helps to gently rub the back of my head with a pencil while listening…I’d wondered if anyone else experienced this but didn’t really care. Sometimes thought it signaled something wrong with my brain but again didn’t really care because it felt so good!
I’m not sure i fit into the ASMR model exactly, but I have a bunch of exercises and ‘gadgets’ that allow me to access similar states whenever I feel like it. My most recent discovery is what I call ‘the Nose Buzz,” along the lines of humming, purring, motorboating the lips, the Razzberry (Bronx Cheer) and my homegrown toys, the Thwizzler, the Donkey Gruntler, The Thwisher and other body-mind favorites. Most of these are described online by clicking ‘exercises’ on this page: http://www.raysender.com/obeata.html
A fast link to one of my favorites: http://www.raysender.com/purring_3-30-14.html
Recently I developed the Nose Buzz after searching on line and finding this quote in response to suggestions on how to trigger a sneeze:
“The easiest way is to put the tips of your fingers over your nostrils and hum, allowing just enough air to escape so that you can keep humming. Your nose will buzz and that makes you sneeze. Hope I helped!”
This is very close to the Nose Buzz description that follows. It’s the ONLY thing I know that’s shudderingly THE most bliss-inducing to the point of putting my whole body into spasms of knee-knocking delight. So obviously pick a safe place to sit, and don’t do it while driving, etc. Then:
Place the tips of the thumb and forefinger over the openings of the nostrils such as to block them completely. Start humming through the nose and then loosen the fingertips enough to allow some air to escape. Move the fingertips around until you begin to trigger an intense vibration that tingles up your nose, over your head and down your back. It may take some adjustment of the fingertips until you get it right.
I think you’ve just stimulated the subtle nerves known in yoga as the Ida and Pingala. Or at least I think that’s what’s
happening. Also — it’s a great way to trigger a sneeze!
As a physiologist and researcher, I think the science and research is hindered by not knowing where to start.
I listed out almost all of the triggers and responses for ASMR to see if there were any patterns that fit some human behaviors with known physiology – and sure enough one stood out: inter-personal bonding.
Inter-personal bonding is what happens between infants and parents, between close friends and between romantic partners – these all seem to share most of the triggers and responses for ASMR: soft vocals, whispering, eye-gazing, light touches, tingles, and deep feelings of comfort, relaxation, trust, elevated mood, and sleepiness.
And the molecular basis for bonding is basically understood: endorphins drive the tingles and some of the relaxation, oxytocin drives the comfort, relaxation and trust, and serotonin drives the elevated mood. And they all may work together to induce sleepiness if someone is already tired.
So ASMR seems to be an activation and awareness of the physiological pathways involved in inter-personal bonding.
Glad to see C. Richard’s comment. I am a physician and I, too, have wondered if the phenomenon called ASMR might be related to oxytocin. I have experienced the relaxed, tingly scalp/neck feeling since childhood, with a variety of triggers, many (but not all) having to do with close attention, kindness, sincerity. I always thought this was just a pleasant, but peculiar thing about me. It never occurred to me to discuss with anyone else until I happened across an article on ASMR a few months ago. The only other thing I have ever experienced that was remotely similar to the ASMR feeling was the oxytocin “high” from breastfeeding, especially in the early weeks/months.
This is not a joke.
I have just discovered the world of ASMR and I wonder if this is what I have been experiencing.
None of the videos and other normal things that people with ASMR claim to use to stimulate the effects seem to work on me, but what does work is this.
If I place my forehead in close proximity to another forehead (around 3 inches away, without touching), so far I have tested humans (ex girlfriends) and a cat, I get a feeling of euphoria that gets stronger and stronger and I have to step away. I would describe it as taking 1000 ecstasy tablets in my head, specifically in my forehead and above the eyes.
I wonder if there is any scientific explanation for this phenomena? Maybe you have some scientific explanation because all I can find on the internet is about the “third eye” , but I believe there is a scientific explanation.
I too thought everyone just had these sensations before, and while I have known about and enjoyed ASMR videos for about a year now, I never speak of it really… I think the very personal nature of the experience probably has something to do with the fact that no one has heard anything about it until a few years ago.
I have no formal training in biology or pharmacology, but here is my amateur attempt at an explanation of the phenomena.
First, as a little background I have been known to dabble around with various drugs in my youth. I still use cannabis from time to time. The closest I think you can get to ASMR with any drug is the initial surge of dopamine after ingesting MDMA. This doesn’t last long (a few minutes at most), and soon after the euphoria and stimulant effect comes on as the drug metabolizes.
MDMA is a dopamine releasing agent and reuptake inhibitor, amongst other things. Dopamine has a strong role in the reward system, arousal, and sexual gratification.
My uneducated theory is that the triggers make the brain release some dopamine, and ASMR is just a mellow dopamine “high”. Does that make any sense? Maybe it would make sense in a study to monitor the subjects dopamine levels (and other hormones active in the CNS) through an ASMR session.
Also I think the first conscious ASMR trigger I ever had was watching The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. That show had *all* the right things to trigger me, and I know most people who watched his show were probably feeling the same thing. Dark, comfortable background, calm and unthreatening host, the intimate interaction of a master teaching you how to paint the most awesome things in a half hour, all with a reassuring, attentive voice. Bob Ross is a legend in the ASMR community, he is often considered the father of ASMR because of the immense amount of people who were triggered by his shows.
I have experienced this since 5 yrs old after a nasty bang on the head. I am 41 now and since that day I get these waves of pleasure through my head when I watch someone work, or tutor me on some arbitrary subject of interest. These episodes can sometimes be so intense I feel boggy and spaced out afterwards. Comming too I find I’ve often been stroking my cheek or neck.
I am confident asmr has links with seizures and or Aspergers.
The bang on head was definitely the cause, I was out cold for 20 mins and required 17 stiches. I distinctly remember feeling something had changed up there.