Have you ever felt tingles in your head and deeply relaxed while getting a haircut, listening to someone turn magazine pages, listening to a specific person talk in a gentle manner, or while watching Bob Ross create a painting?
If so, then you have probably experienced the soothing and comforting feeling of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).
ASMR is becoming increasingly popular around the world and with celebrities. A driving reason is that it seems to be very helpful for reducing stress and falling asleep.
A common way to experience ASMR is to watch ASMR videos or to listen to ASMR podcasts. These recordings are either a direct recording of real life situations which trigger ASMR, or are simulations of the voices, sounds, behaviors, and moments in real life which tend to trigger ASMR.
The other way to experience ASMR is in real life (IRL), AKA in-person ASMR. Learn about 4 types of in-person ASMR HERE.
What does ASMR feel like?
The ASMR sensations can be categorized into:
- Physical sensations (what you feel): light and pleasurable tingles, sparkles, fuzziness, or waves of relaxation in the head, neck, spine, and throughout the rest of the body.
- Psychological sensations (how you feel): deep and soothing feelings of relaxation, calmness, comfort, peacefulness, restfulness, or sleepiness.
What stimulates ASMR?
In short, ASMR is stimulated during moments of positive, personal attention (the Context) coupled with a gentle voice, touch, sound, and/or movement (the Triggers).
Context sets the stage for experiencing ASMR. You are most likely to experience ASMR when a helpful and kind person is giving you calm, focused attention. This kind person may be a clinician, teacher, hairdresser, parent, best friend, partner, or even someone you just met. The key aspects of this interaction are that you trust this person, feel safe, and they are doing something helpful or interesting.
Triggers are the specific stimuli that occur during this interaction. These triggers can be the other person’s voice, the sounds they create, their touch, or the way they move their hands. The most important aspect of these triggers is that they are gentle and non-threatening, in other words, they are speaking softly, creating low volume sounds, touching you lightly and appropriately, and moving their hands smoothly, slowly, and predictably.
Want an analogy to highlight the importance of having ASMR triggers within an ASMR context?
Imagine a slice of delicious cake. The key stimuli/triggers to your taste buds when you enjoy that cake are the sugar, butter, and salt – but the important foundation/context is the flour. Take away the flour and use lose the foundation of the cake. Similarly, the key stimuli/triggers for ASMR are things like gentle whispers, tapping sounds, and light touch – but the important foundation/context is the moment of positive, personal attention from a kind or caring person. Take away the positive, personal attention and you lose the foundation for ASMR.
ASMR vs Mindfulness & Meditation
ASMR, Mindfulness, & Meditation are all helpful ways to relax. A key difference is that ASMR results from someone else paying attention to you, but Mindfulness & Meditation result from you paying attention to yourself. In other words, ASMR results from someone else being kind to you, but Mindfulness & Meditation result from you being kind to yourself (see this research study).
Why do some people find the relaxation during ASMR more soothing and enjoyable than the relaxation they may feel during Mindfulness or Meditation? Perhaps the answer is in this analogy: Mindfulness & Meditation is like you using a backscratcher on yourself, but ASMR is like someone else scratching your back. Both are enjoyable, but the latter can be more enjoyable for many individuals. We may just release more positive brain chemicals when someone else takes the time and effort to help us compared to when we help ourselves.
What are the major ASMR Trigger categories (& examples)?
There are 3 major categories for triggers:
- Visual/Observed: Seeing someone’s gentle movements and kind facial expressions. Examples include someone gazing at you in a caring way, as well as, watching someone’s hands unbox an item, poke at slime, cut soap, play with kinetic sand, solve a Rubik’s cube, draw a picture, or create a painting (Hello Bob Ross).
- Sources: in-person, videos
- Auditory/Heard: The low volume sounds of someone’s voice, their fingers touching something, or the sounds of the item they are touching. Popular sounds include whispering, gentle speech, tapping, crinkling, scratching, and brushing.
- Sources: in-person, videos, podcasts
- Tactile/Felt: Lightly touching someone’s hair, hand, arm, or back. This can occur unintentionally with a hairdresser or clinician, or intentionally with a friend, family member, or partner.
What is the most popular ASMR trigger?
Although tapping sounds and crinkling sounds are very popular, whispers have been determined by three different research studies to be the most popular ASMR trigger. This may be because whispers are not just a gentle sound like tapping and crinkling, but whispers also convey the gentle personality of the individual whispering and therefore feel more personal to the listener.
The first video channel of whispered videos for the purpose of relaxation was WhisperingLife, created in 2009. Many other dedicated whisperers soon started YouTube channels also. These early ASMR videos existed before the term “ASMR” was created and they were all referred to as “Whisper Videos.” Learn more about the History of ASMR videos HERE.
If you want to try relaxing or falling asleep to whispers, you can try the podcast, Sleep Whispers. The Sleep Whispers podcast was created by the founder of ASMR University in 2016. Listen to the Sleep Whispers podcast, the Calm History podcast, and other relaxing podcasts HERE.
Why is ASMR relaxing?
When the Context and Triggers are appropriate (see details above), you feel deeply relaxed because your brain is saying to you, “This person isn’t making any threatening sounds or movements and they are doing something helpful or interesting. I think I’ll chill out with them rather than run away, and this may even be a safe time to fall asleep.”
You can read more about some biological and evolutionary theories about ASMR HERE (includes the potential brain chemicals involved and the benefit of ASMR for survival and relationships).
Intentional vs Unintentional ASMR:
The individuals who purposely want to stimulate ASMR in others are called ASMR artists (AKA ASMRtists, ASMR practitioners, or ASMR content creators) and their productions are called “intentional ASMR”. The most common examples are YouTube video artists, but ASMR artists can also include composers, poets, dancers, and more.
Stimuli/triggers created accidentally by individuals are called “unintentional ASMR”. Examples include Bob Ross, teachers, hairdressers, clinicians, unboxing videos, and expert demonstrations.
Individuals who intentionally or unintentionally elicit ASMR in others tend to have the following dispositions: kind, caring, empathic, attentive, focused, trustworthy, dedicated, expert, and a calm vocal tone.
ASMR scenarios and role-plays:
Some of the strongest triggers for ASMR are “scenarios” which include a mix of stimuli/trigger types and involve someone with an ASMR disposition. For example, watching Bob Ross paint includes a mix of audio triggers (gentle tapping sounds), visual triggers (methodical and expert hand movements), and Bob Ross’s gentle disposition.
If the scenarios are created on purpose to stimulate ASMR then they are called “ASMR role-plays”. These are commonly performed by ASMR artists on YouTube.
General ASMR scenarios include: instructional demonstrations, methodical task completion, personal attention, focused activities, and consultations. These scenarios may involve the person as a participant or as an observer.
Specific ASMR scenarios include: spa treatments, cranial nerve exams, hair salon visits, origami paper folding, unboxings, magazine page-turning, and soft spoken men painting methodically on canvas.
The benefits of ASMR:
Internet videos of individuals purposely simulating real-life ASMR triggers have grown widely popular in the last few years. Viewers find many of these videos as relaxing as real-life ASMR triggers and quite helpful for falling asleep, de-stressing, and providing comfort during a sad time.
Some individuals with clinical diagnoses of medical disorders report that these videos are helpful to their insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders and/or depression.
The evidence for the potential benefit of ASMR for stress disorders, sleep disorders, mood disorders and more is slowly growing – read more HERE.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot to learn about the physiology of ASMR and the true effectiveness of ASMR for medical disorders. That is why the mission of this website is to promote the awareness, understanding, and research of ASMR.
The Rising Popularity of ASMR
A common curiosity is “Why did ASMR become so popular only in the recent past 10 years? ” Although ASMR has probably existed for the span of human existence, experiencing it through intentional videos on YouTube made is easily accessible, always available, and expertly performed. No need to rely on a friend or partner to be willing, available, and proficient at stimulating your ASMR.
In other words, modern technology and the rise of online videos allowed a safe and easy way to experience ASMR. Furthermore, the early ASMR artists used their own intuition along with feedback from viewers to discover the optimal ASMR triggers.
Doesn’t the advance of modern technology, the internet, and YouTube over the past 10 years also get the blame for creating an epidemic of loneliness to result in an increased need for ASMR? This is unlikely and has been well addressed by episode 407 of the Freakonomics podcast titled, “Is There Really a “Loneliness Epidemic”?” Instead, it just seems that technology and YouTube videos simply provided an easier way to experience ASMR.
Is ASMR helping people during the social distancing of the current COVID-19 pandemic? Yes, and you can read some reports by going to the ‘Health Benefits of ASMR‘ page and viewing the information at the top of the page.
Learn more about ASMR:
- History: when and how did the world discover ASMR?
- Origin Theory: why and how do people experience ASMR?
- Science: what has research discovered about ASMR?
- Art: how do artists express ASMR?
- Testimonials: how do others describe their ASMR?
- ASMR University Podcast: listen to the history, science, and more.
Contribute to the Understanding of ASMR:
- Participate in the ASMR Research Survey
- Participate in the Voices of ASMR Project
- Participate in the Website Polls
For the complete list of ASMR topics on this website:
- Visit the Homepage
Prefer to snuggle up with a book or ebook to learn about ASMR?
“Brain Tingles” the How-To Guide by Dr. Craig Richard
Learn all about ASMR and how to stimulate that blissful feeling in those around you – with your gentle voice, light touch, hypnotic actions, and caring behaviors.
Lull a child to sleep, soothe a stressed family member, relax a friend or romantic partner, create ASMR videos, or add it as a relaxation technique to your spa, health studio, wellness center, or counseling sessions.
This book will help you to understand and apply the techniques, tools, and secrets for every ASMR trigger type, along with hundreds of examples.
Available on Amazon, or learn more HERE.
Website mission: to increase the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. (How to cite)
Website founder: Dr. Richard (About, Contact)
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31 thoughts on “What is ASMR?”
I’ve had this my whole life. I was ecstatic to find there was a name for it and other people that might understand it! I love it but it also bothers me when I can’t stay awake in a library or even a store sometimes if there is a trigger sound near me. I have slept through much of school and fallen asleep on the job (usually during breaks) from work environment sounds since my first job. I keep reading about the great side of ASMR but there is also this annoying one. I probably wouldn’t trade it in though!
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Have you ever undergone a sleep study? I suspect you have narcolepsy, as I do. Have a night time sleep study followed directly by a daytime sleep study. This is the only way to determine whether or not you have narcolepsy. Do not waste money having either of these done without the other as it will not lead to any conclusion as to whether or not you are narcoleptic. Often when only a night time sleep study is done and some sort of disturbance is found, it is assumed that this is the only cause of the symptoms. This is not necessarily true as day time narcoleptic symptoms are in no way influenced by night time sleep quality or duration. Although I often suffer from insomnia as most narcoleptics do, my night time sleep study showed no disturbances over a full 8 hours of sleep. During my daytime sleep study which proceeding directly after, my average daytime sleep onset latency was 3.2 minutes. This is the time between lying down with eyes closing to clinically asleep, recorded during several trials throughout the day in which I was made to sit up out of bed and remain awake for 2 hours prior to being told to lie down with my eyes closed until falling asleep, then being woken after 15 minutes of sleep. My results were extreme. But anyone who can fall asleep in less than 5 minutes has narcolepsy. Many people believe that they can and have done so, however, with the exception of extreme sleep deprivation, similar to POWs and other torture victims, this is just not the case unless he person is narcoleptic. Other sleep disorders, such as apnea or restless leg, will not result in the level of sleep deprivation necessary to produce a 5 minute or less daytime sleep onset latency. Narcolepsy is the only disorder that will do so. There are also REM sleep abnormalities experienced by narcoleptics which can be found during such a sleep study. I hope that helps. There isn’t much that can be done for narcolepsy. There are prescription drugs that may help. But for me, being diagnosed was most beneficial in that it gave an explanation for my behavior that at least some people could understand, as opposed to having people viewing your behavior as irresponsible, rude, lazy, etc.
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You should also get tested for sleep apnea. Sounds like you check a few of the boxes.
I now feel normal knowing this effects others. I fall asleep to Bob Ross. He is now on Netflix!
Mercy, I feel the same things from Bob Ross shows, but for me, it’s not his calming voice, it’s the sounds his brushes and knives make on the canvases. I just learned today app’s are available that play Bob Ross shows for the ASMR affect. Wonder if they offer canvas sounds too.
Asmr is my life I didn’t know it calls Asmr ♥️
Wow, this actually has a name!! I’ve been experiencing this every since I was a little girl – I respond to all three triggers. I always wondered what this was and it just never occurred to me that other people might be experiencing what I did (in particular, the auditory and visual triggers). These experiences are so unbelievably pleasant and ultra-relaxing. Trance-like, out-of-body even…I just go to another place. I have a vague recollection of trying to describe what I was feeling to friends throughout my childhood and just beyond and they had no idea what I was talking about/looked at me like I was a little out there. So I’ve considered it a uniquely personal experience up until now. Very cool! I’ve got some research to do and some amazing relaxing videos to watch.
I’ve had head tingles for years, most commonly when sitting with sunshine hitting my back. But sometimes when there is no sunshine – so I’m going to have to start paying attention to possible auditory triggers. Neat!