Have you ever felt a sensation of “head tingling,” where the hairs on your neck rise in a not-so-unpleasant way? It’s the feeling you get when someone is playing with your hair or whispering in your ear.
This feeling is called autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. Defined as the distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp or peripheral regions of the body due to a certain form of sensory stimuli, ASMR has been gaining attention on the Internet with thousands of Youtube videos dedicated to its stimulation.
Such content consists of common triggers such as whispering, with the creator speaking softly into a sound recording device. Role-playing is another common kind of ASMR video, in which the creator guides viewers in “relaxing” situations such as a haircut or a doctor’s appointment. Viewers have reported relief from insomnia, panic attacks and anxiety after the ASMR effect of these videos.
“The [ASMR] effect is clearly strongly related to the perception of non-threat and altruistic attention,” said David Huron, a professor at the Ohio State University School of Music, in an interview with Buzzfeed writer Sean T. Collins.
However, despite the growing community of ASMR content creators, there has been significant lack of scientific investigation on the phenomenon.
“It might well be a real thing, but it’s inherently difficult to research,” said University of Sheffield cognitive science professor Professor Tom Stafford in a 2012 article about ASMR in the Independent. “The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you’ve got something like this that you can’t see or feel, and it doesn’t happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot.”
Because of the lack of investigation, ASMR has not been classified as either beneficial or harmful. Yet one ASMR content creator, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims that the stimulation is a good thing.
“For me,” the creator stated in an interview with JSR, finding out about ASMR “is one of the best things that could have happened. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and insomnia, and ASMR changed all that. Some people write off ASMR as creepy or unreliable because there’s no much scientific evidence behind it, but it’s helped thousands of people find relief from their hectic lives. It’s helped me.”