ASMR

Observation induced euphoria.
Brain massage.
Eargasms.
Spine tingles.
Auditory caresses.
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;

-whispering
-crinkling/smoothing noises
-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
-calligraphy lessons
-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.

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29 thoughts on “ASMR

  1. Yup! It’s astonishing just how much of the ASMR community first experienced these feelings while watching “The Joy of Painting”. Bob Ross: Unknowing ASMRist.

  2. Yes, I believe I did. It was in regards to you describing the feelings you got when watching someone (your dad?) fold papers, if I am recalling it correctly.

  3. Very interesting never heard of ASMR. It sounds soothing and comforting. It seem like a gift. I know that so many men and even women have become addicted to online pornography. I’ve read articles on how porn is damaging mens sex drive. Some experts say that people looking at porn images and masturbating to an orgasm are getting “high” on thir own body chemicals such as oxycontin and serotonin and in is damafing in a way where a person becomes so turned on at looking at an image on a computer but cannot be turned by a real woman or man.
    But ASMR sound like a good thing. It seems relaxing and therapeutic and there are no illicit drugs involved just natural in a way. I know for me I play an audio of heavy soothing rainfall and it puts me to sleep. Also looking at beautiful art or paintings relaxes me.
    I will check out the you tube on ASMR. I never heard of it before. Perhaps it will be utilized in some therapies? I have checked out “hemisync” on you tube. Hemisync are sounds and vibrations that reportedly by many people help your mind and improves memory, and relaxes you. Check out some hemisync on you tube.
    Life can be so stressful that it is a good thing tht there could be natural relaxants or natural mood enhancers as opposed to prescribed drugs.

  4. @Royce

    Having ASMR is very nice…it’s like experiencing an entirely different type of relaxation than most are able to enjoy. Believe it or not, it’s so automatic that until I was in about 4th grade I’d just always assumed everyone “felt” noises. It was quite a shock to learn that the majority of people had no clue what I was talking about. Kind of like how I found out a few years ago that most other people don’t have a way to sense life energy/bioelectricity…I am unsure how it can be that one goes through life without being able to sense something so basic.

    Maybe my senses are just hypersensitive all around?

    As for porn, I greatly enjoy it. I’d rather watch porn than read erotica, but then I’m a pretty visual person. However, I kind of view porn as “fast food”…better than nothing, but not very nutritious or filling. I can see how it would be easy to go for the quick release, especially if one doesn’t have a sex partner. But it’s also important to stay in touch with one’s own body, so I only watch porn about 3x a week and use my own imagination or sexually meditate the other 4 days.

    Oh, and I also think that many women rely far too heavily on sex toys…some need them due to arthritis and the like, but if you are 100% fit and *have* to use a vibrator to orgasm, I think there’s some issues that need to be dealt with.

    It’s not only men who get “lazy” when it comes to masturbation…

  5. Yeah I agree with your viewpoint in there should be no shame in masturbation. I think organized religion is too puritanical and makes us shameful of our bodies and even about masturbation. That is why I can see the positive aspects of the nudist or naturist movement. I have never been to a nudist resort but I have been to a nude beach and it is so accepting of our bodies. People of all body shapes, and sizes and it is just so accepting. Europeans allow women to go topless at public beaches but here in the USA our culture is still so puritanical.
    There is nothing wrong with masturbation except I guess if it becomes a compulsive habit and interferes with one’s sex life if they have a partner. I know for many single men like me masturbation helps us release sexual tension and be sensitive to our own bodily pleasures.
    Tarnished you mentioned you are hypersensitive and very aware of your own bodily rythm’s.
    You could be a good healer. Have you considered a career in healing arts. You could be a good massage therapist, reiki practitioner, acupuncturist, or a healer. I like alternative healing have you heard of EFT? . Not to sound too” new agey ” on you but you may have a gift for healing.

  6. So very with you on the masturbation topic. You’re correct: Here in the US our sexuality is corrupted. Male sexuality is demonized, female sexuality is denied…and of course if you step out of this binary, you may as well not exist.

    The thing that I wish our country would focus on is respect for all, brotherly/sisterly love for one another, acceptance of our bodies balanced with the need to be fit (not to be confused with unnaturally skinny or overly muscled), and teach *everyone* about sexual consent. Women force men to penetrate nearly as much as men forcefully penetrate women…this is a diseased culture, when the sexes are almost literally “at war” with one another.

    I am very aware of my own rhythms, as well as those of people close to me, and the majority of animals I’ve met. My mother is actually a practicing massage therapist and level 3 reiki healer…I myself do massage/healing for the dogs and cats at the SPCA I volunteer at, and used to do guided meditations for friends in high school and college. I have heard of EFT, but have yet to use it myself.

  7. “Although I can say that combining a session of masturbation with listening to an ASMR trigger is pretty close to having oneโ€™s brain shut down from pleasureโ€ฆSue me, I was curious.”
    mehh – call it scientific research in its purest form.
    sounds cool, consider me jealous

  8. Would rag-doll cats be a contender?
    I’m no expert, but have seen them turn to jelly when brushed. I wouldn’t have seen them as having superior survival traits outside of being pets for humans – they seem curiously (clumsily?) un-cat-like.
    Can you see scenarios when ASMR might help survival for a human, or is it a sort of harmless curiosity?
    ‘synaesthesia’ (what’s with you lot and misspelling words? ; ) ) that was where my thoughts went as well. There was a very good BBC Horizon episode on it. As someone who enjoys the out of herd/flock opinion or experience, it sounded…(searching for words)…exotic and interesting. I’m sure it has downsides in social life, but what doesn’t?
    Here’s a link to what looks like an American re-hashing of the BBC Horizon documentary (the English interviewees and graphics used are very familiar, but the narrator is American)


    BTW just searched youtube for that documentary and found an clip description saying that studies have linked synaesthesia with autism…might be of interest (no idea of the value of the research). A brain that self-triggers might be a whole lot more interested in itself rather than the dreary outside world, perhaps? more inward looking?

  9. @Spawny

    Honestly, it kinda *was* research. The typical feelings one gets through ASMR are intensely pleasurable but decidedly not sexual. I wanted to see what would happen if I combined sexual pleasure with nonsexual pleasure…

    Result: Brain felt like it was melting and exploding at the same time, and I lost my vision for a few seconds. It was wonderful and nearly spiritual and left me short of breath afterwards, but it was almost *too much* pleasure. Like my brain was on the safe side of overload, but just barely.

    I don’t think I’ll be doing it again anytime soon. Could lead to an addiction, and I pride myself on being in control of my body as much as possible.

    It’d be so stupid for me to be able to control my heart rate, body temperature, dreams, and brainwaves…but then get addicted to something. I mean, really?

  10. @Spawny (again)

    Rag doll cats? I’m going to have to Google that…not entirely sure what those are. Could be the same as fainting goats, where artificial selection by humans has taken an evolutionarily undesirable trait and kept it going for our own “needs”.

    Hey, hey! Americans don’t misspell words…it is hardly my fault the British are so in bed with the French and all those extra “u”s and “a”s. ๐Ÿ˜€

    It could just be a mutation that never got selected out…remember that evolution only gets rid of traits that mean death for the carriers (aka they don’t survive long enough to procreate and pass those genes along). If something like ASMR is a highly recessive mutation, but it is “neutral” in regards to survival, then it’ll simply be in a small segment of the population. I honestly think it’s a throwback to our ancestry with the other Great Apes and primates/mammals in general, where grooming helped build strong social bonds.

    I have not yet seen that documentary, but there’s an interesting book about synesthesia called “The Man who Tasted Shapes”. I highly recommend it, as well as “The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” if you want to be amazed and slightly scared of all the ways our brains can get screwed up.

    It’s very interesting that you mention the concept of a mind that is more inward-tuned that outward-tuned. I’ve noticed this a lot with myself, in that I *need* some solitude everyday otherwise I begin to panic…I need time to process all the small details of the day and properly “categorize” them in my mind, and if I can’t I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of input. I also lucid dream, have sleep paralysis but can now somewhat control the “shadow people” that come with it, and as I was telling Royce above, have hypersensitivity in my sense of hearing and touch (also smell, but that had not come up yet).

    I want to take this opportunity to point out that while a fair amount of this sounds “New Agey”, I do *not* believe any of it is supernatural in origin. Just because something is not explainable in science yet doesn’t mean it’s not a purely natural occurrence, albeit a rare or understudied one. It’s acceptable to say “I don’t know” then make hypotheses and look further into X. It’s not acceptable (to me) to make up a reason for X that isn’t falsifiable or able to be tested.

  11. You say aluminum (aloo-min-um), we say aluminium (al-yu-min-yum)
    at least we’re both right there. afaiaa in the paper describing the newly discovered element it was spelt both ways (at different points). the two spellings force two different pronunciations IMHO ๐Ÿ˜‰
    other words similar to synaesthesia that you get wrong include paediatrician (pedestrian is the ped word! kid is paed) and encyclopaedia (much prettier our way)
    *blows intercontinental raspberry*

  12. Dear Sophia,
    I have the up most respect for you. I’ve only known how to use a computer
    for little over a year, even though I am 56 years old.
    I came from a quasi abusive home. I didn’t have deliberate tortures inflicted on
    me, but it was an unhealthy enviornment to grow up in. I recieved contradictory
    advise from each parent on right and wrong.
    I got by until my 12th year. I was fat and sloppy and hoped if I lost the weight
    I would gain acceptence from people. It didn’t work out that way. I kept off
    the streets and lost the ability to socialize. Soon, I was too apprehensive to
    leave my room for any reason.
    My gruff father took an agressive tack, but it didn’t work. My mother defended
    me. Years sped by. I stayed at the developmental level of 12.
    My mother has since died, and I’m left with my father. He is soon to die as well.
    I don’t know what awaits me. I only hope that God looks out for me, and I
    can be like the Chaunsy Garderner character in the film “Being There (1979.)

  13. @Spawny

    Touche, sir. You win this round, you silly English ka-nig-it.

    Next we’ll have to argue over the migratory paths of coconut laden African swallows…

  14. @Lon

    That’s okay, dearheart. I never learned how to type, so each of my posts here and papers through high school and college were/are typed with 1 finger. I feel much better about this since learning that George RR Martin writes “A Song of Fire and Ice” the same way (Game of Thrones to those who’ve only seen the show). Computer skills do not a good person make.

    I am very sympathetic to the conditions you grew up in, and I’m sure that whatever flaws you may have pale in comparison to the decency and humor I’ve seen in you thusfar. I have some customers who are in their 30s and 40s but are developmentally challenged in either emotional or intellectual ways, but I cherish them the same as everyone else. The measure of a life is not necessarily what we can prove to the world at large, but in how we treat the animals and people who share it with us.

    Don’t feel poorly for being different. Just do the best you can and don’t take anyone for granted. That’s all any of us can do when it comes down to it.

  15. I wouldn’t mind the spelling shortcomings quite so much, if you didn’t make an obvious parody of spelling anglicise by spelling it with a Z!
    What’s up with that?
    I can only assume that you get americanise wrong too, but that’s fitting. I’m okay with that (FTR)

  16. Huh I think I might do this a bit when someone touches a certain place on my scalp, I get all goose bumpy and shuddery and just basically zone out……it has to be someone else doing it though it won’t work when I do it myself :(. Sort of like you can’t tickle yourself…..
    I also shudder uncontrollably when I’m really excited or nervous……you know just so I look even weirder in public LOL

  17. I wish I had ASMR. It sounds lovely. I do have one distinct sort of synaesthesia: I smell “in color”. I get a whiff of an aroma (a food, a perfume, a plant, or just the air in a specific place) and think to myself, “that smells red/dark brown/yellow” etc. I can sometimes, in my most fanciful moods, distinguish between the smell of grey, black and charcoal. Whether this is simple word-association or a key to a deeper sensory ability, is likely a matter for my neurologist, or my shrink. If I had either, which I don’t. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. @Eddie

    Hi, great to hear from you again. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Judging from the bit I know about synesthesia, if this color association happens automatically, then you probably do have it. Was it a trait you always had, or one that developed over time?

  19. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, but then again I’m notorious for having the memory of a goldfish. I’m a bit of a fragrance aficionado, and there are some scents that I can identify not only by color (Comme des Garcons Eau de Parfum is deep, muddy brown, Eau d’Italie’s Bois d’Ombrie is muted olive green, Fracas is obnoxiously bright neon pink, etc.) but by texture: fuzzy, glossy, velvety, and so on. I really do think it’s associated with words. I’m a very verbal person.

  20. Well, then I’d say from a layperson’s perspective, you do certainly have some crossover in your brain. Whether this is truly something that can be classified as synesthesia, I think a neurologist would have to say…and I don’t have one either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  21. @MB

    Lol, not gonna lie…I’m kind of jealous right now. I’m currently listening to a bunch of loud, semi-obnoxious Magic players who never heard of “indoor voices”.

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