Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. A condition that I always knew I had and suspected that others had. Having turned 50 last year I found out about this by accident – looking at videos that have sounds of keyboard typing – which I always found relaxing without knowing why. So I looked into it and was pleased to discover that ‘those tingling feelings’ had a name: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR.
When I say ‘condition’, I mean a pleasurable one where your head receives intense sensations caused by different sound triggers that affect different people in different ways.
First, let’s break this all down.
ASMR is an experience characterised by a tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of low-grade euphoria, characterised by a combination of positive feelings, and a distinct static-like sensation on the skin. It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control. Phew!!!
My earliest memory of this was as a 12-year-old in Australian state school, in which I enjoyed the tingling sensations while a lady friend who was helping me with my school project whispered and worked as I watched her. Another memory is my dad showing me how to build items out of wood and not being able to focus properly as his mutterings caused those delightful sensations.
And if you remember that great scene in Revenge Of the Pink Panther where Inspector Clouseau, in disguise as a telephone repairman, presses the doorbell only for it to become stuck. I would often rewind that scene several times over, as I was enjoying the taps and clicks made from Clouseau as he tries to stop the ringing by dismantling the whole doorbell.
All of these are ASMR triggers. Let me give you a few more examples of my own triggers I’ve had all my life:
1. You’re getting your hair cut – hardly any talking except the snip snip of the scissors, wetting the hair, moving the head slightly to one side, to the other, snip, snip, and back again.
2. You are at a meeting, in church, at a function, and people behind you are quietly whispering to each other, you can hear children playing with toys, etc.
3. You’re in an office environment and someone is typing nearby at a normal speed. Tap, tap, tappity, tap, tap.
4. You are getting an eye examination and the ophthalmologist is pointing a light toward you, asking in a quiet voice to follow from one side to the other. Or better yet, having the eye machine with different lens to your face and being asked, again in a soft voice, which lens is best to see out of… number one or (change lens) number two. (Seriously, I’ve had plenty of eye exams and have enjoyed every one of them just for this very reason).
So if any of those triggers relate to you, congratulations, you could have ASMR.
If all this is new to you, and you can finally call this thing you’ve had most of your life by a name, then You Are Not Alone. In fact, if you were to type ASMR into YouTube, you will see hundreds of videos of ASMR folks and the different triggers. A good video to start with is “What the H*ck is ASMR” by Gibi.
Now, not everyone has this, and those who don’t will probably think you’re very strange. (Perhaps you could treat it like some sort of superpower). So, through this article and other media, I hope to give some support to those who do.
What does it all feel like? For me, it’s a very delightful sensation that starts at the back and moves around my head with a strong and pleasurable tingling sensation. Some people have described this as a sensual brain massage. No, not the sexual kind, but one that involves similar types of pleasure zones for the brain. And different triggers set it off.
In fact, finding your triggers is the best part of the ASMR experience.
Some common triggers are quiet tapping, hair brushing, opening a parcel, people quietly whispering behind you, clicking noises, stereo sounds that move from ear to ear and more. I have seen an ASMR t-shirt saying “Sorry, I can’t go out tonight… I’m cutting potatoes” and I know what they mean – the chop/slice/chop of cutting a potato being a trigger for some.
You find lots more triggers on YouTube and Spotify although for me it is not something I can just listen to in order to produce the ASMR feelings. To me, the whispering and clicking noises are usually in the background of something I’m quietly doing, such as reading. It’s not something I fully focus on. And some days are easier to feel this than others. But when it’s good, it’s awesome.
There are some negatives to having an ASMR experience and one would be having a lack of focus. If you can imagine being in a classroom for the final exam – being sure you will pass – and suddenly finding it difficult to focus as you hear the stillness, the occasional tap, biros clicking, murmuring outside the classroom, whispers as questions are quietly asked and footsteps as the teacher moves around the room – all this can be distracting to someone with ASMR.
That and trying to describe in the best way what ASMR is to someone who doesn’t have or understand it… and being called a ‘tingle-head’, but I digress… lol.
So as we talk about Geeks vs Loneliness, can I encourage those who know they have ASMR (and you will, without a doubt) to seek out other ASMR folks, find your favourite triggers and release your YANA (You Are Not Alone – 10th Doctor). Embrace this experience to the full. I’m currently enjoying Inaudible Whispers by ASMR HQ – it is very relaxing.
Now, excuse me. Gibi has a new video out about whispering on an iPhone followed by one hour of keyboard typing that I simply must check out…