Observation induced euphoria.
Autonomous sensory meridian response.
All of these terms, and a great many more, have been used to attempt to convey the feelings present when someone with ASMR (pronounced as-im-are) experiences…well, what we experience. Unfortunately, there has been so little research done on this that while neurologists are willing to go on record with hypothesis in regards to what causes ASMR, there’s still a decent number in the scientific community who either don’t know it exists, or believe it to be an unreal “condition”. So what exactly am I talking about, anyway?
What is ASMR?
ASMR is the standard name given to the reactions present in people who experience automatically induced feelings of pleasure and relaxation when hearing and/or seeing certain stimuli. Although the term “orgasm” is sometimes used to describe it, such as brain orgasm or eargasm, the feeling is not sexually based. (Although I can say that combining a session of masturbation with listening to an ASMR trigger is pretty close to having one’s brain shut down from pleasure…Sue me, I was curious.) It’s important to also note that the majority of people who do have ASMR have never taken recreational drugs, and are not experiencing “flashbacks” or the like.
How many have it?
It’s currently unknown just how many people have ASMR, but it seems to be a small percentage of the population. Indeed, in my own 30 years I’ve only ever met 1 other person in real life who understood what I was talking about when I described what I experience. One boy in a grade school art class out of everyone I’ve ever mentioned it to…which includes all the people in my high school Public Speaking and Psychology courses, my Abnormal Psych, Basic Psych, Philosophy and Ethics, Human Sexuality, and Human Biology courses in college, as well as my coworkers at my current job and my family. So yeah, out of nearly 200 people, only 1 didn’t try to insinuate I was on drugs or was crazy/weird. This seems to hold up in ASMR forums or Facebook groups, with most members admitting that they thought they were “the only ones” who had these feelings.
What does ASMR feel like?
In most people it produces a pleasurable tingling sensation in the scalp, along the shoulders/upper arms, and down the spine, with a large concentration of it centering around the inner ears. Some people experience small lovely shivers periodically, while others get goosebumps, or get so relaxed that they fall asleep. Imagine someone caressing these areas with just the tips of their fingers, or gently running a fine comb through your hair and along your backbone…it’s like getting a “phantom” massage. Sorry if this doesn’t quite make sense, but if you have ASMR you’ll understand.
What causes ASMR?
Not every noise or sight leads to such a response. In fact, many who have ASMR seem to have more ranges of hearing than those who don’t, and this can lead to painful situations. For example, I never learned to type as a child because being in the Computer Lab with 25+ monitors/PCs going at the same time gave me mind-splitting migraines that would’ve had me in tears if I allowed myself to cry. I, and many other ASMR people, can even hear things like dog whistles, television sets being turned on, bats, fluorescent lights, radios being on with the sound off, and similar high frequency noises that most can’t hear or don’t notice. Interestingly, some ASMR Facebook groups have found that very bright or unexpected lights are also more than a little offputting to members, leading some to believe that perhaps people with ASMR suffer from related hypersensitivity or increased interconnection of our visual and auditory senses.
Thus, the sounds that trigger our ASMR are generally much more soothing sounds and/or visuals. Common triggers include but aren’t limited to;
-tapping wooden objects together
-softly spoken stories
-watching someone handle a delicate object like a ceremonial tea set or carefully painting an egg
-brushing sounds (think Bob Ross!)
-light scraping noises
-gently poured water
-book pages turning slowly
-scissor or brushing sounds
-having someone give you personal attention, like a doctor, masseuse, or hair stylist
If you search for “asmr” on YouTube, you will actually find an entire community of people who call themselves ASMRists. They not only experience ASMR, but they use their knowledge of the above triggers to make videos specifically for those of us who find pleasure and relaxation from them. I highly recommend GentleWhispering…she is my absolute favorite, especially when she turns on her Russian accent.
I wish I could tell you more about the “why’s” and “how’s” of this oddity of the mind, but alas, there’s no studies on it yet. We don’t even know if other animals experience it, though many people with pets (myself included) have found that our furry/feathered companions will become sleepy or calm after listening to videos with us. So whether this is simply a throwback to ancient times when we groomed each other that only some of us have kept, a more subtle form of synesthesia, or a less specific type of musical fission, I am afraid I do not know. Perhaps one day we will, but until then I hope this has helped some of my readers put a name to something they thought was a complete mystery.
Questions, further information, or asking for clarifications are welcome as usual. Thanks for reading.