Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (A.S.M.R.)
April 6, 2019 8:04 PM   Subscribe

How A.S.M.R. Became a Sensation. "The brain-tingling feeling was a hard-to-describe psychological oddity. Until, suddenly, it was a YouTube phenomenon."
When Jennifer Allen watched videos of space, she sometimes felt this peculiar sensation: a tingling that spread through her scalp as the camera pulled back to show the marble of the earth. It came in a wave, like a warm effervescence, making its way down the length of her spine and leaving behind a sense of gratitude and wholeness. Allen loved this feeling, but she didn’t know what caused it. It was totally distinct from anything she’d experienced before. Every two years or so she’d take to Google. She tried searching things like “tingling head and spine” or “brain orgasm.” For nine years, the search didn’t turn up anything.

Then, around 2009, it did...


And so in February 2010, she sat down to brainstorm some ideas. Others had tried to describe the weird sensation, but spacey nicknames like “attention-induced head orgasm” had never quite caught on. Allen felt a debt to the feeling’s New Age fans, but she also saw the usefulness of more clinical language. When no existing term could meet both conditions, she made up a new one: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or A.S.M.R. She started with “autonomous” because it was a feeling from within; “sensory” was self-explanatory. “Meridian” worked triple duty, suggesting peak but also orgasm and the energy pathways of traditional Chinese medicine. “Response” was just to say that it was not a constant state; it happened in reaction to a set of stimuli, like whispering, gum chewing and tapping.

“I wish I’d made it a little shorter,” Allen says. But at least it sounded better than “brain-gasm.”
posted by homunculus (79 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I always referred to it as a "tuning-fork" sensation, at least before ASMR got to be super widely bruited about and I went "Oh, that thing? Y'all have a word for it now? Okay then." I experience it pretty frequently, it's not hard for me to seek out.

The notion of the various things people do to seek out the sensation is always a little odd to me, because it's... not hard for me to hit it, and most of the things people talk about as ASMR stim videos are things I find boring, weird, and not particularly likely to spark that sensation. Of course, again, it's... I have vivid memories of seeing a tuning fork for the first time, about eight or nine years old, and thinking "aha! It's that!" where that was the familiar sensation I felt, not the tuning fork itself.

I must admit I am terribly dubious about the evolutionary psych notions bruited about in the 'science' portion of this article. It's clearly possible to form a strong bond of attachment without this sensation, just as it's possible to do that without orgasms. If I had to guess.... I'd guess that, like synaesthesia, it's a form of experience common among people with some touch of neurodiversity, based on the people I have known who expressed the feeling both before and after the phrase ASMR rose to the center of discussion of the phenomenon.

I'm also vaguely dubious about the connection with sex, but then again, my relationship with sex is also non-standard, so who the hell knows?
posted by sciatrix at 8:21 PM on April 6, 2019 [16 favorites]

Is ASMR that "spidey sense" I got the first time I snuck some vodka from the liquor cabinet? That "holy shit I'm really doing this" feeling?
posted by notsnot at 8:26 PM on April 6, 2019

That sounds like pure adrenaline to me, but maybe I'm missing something? For me, this is something I associate not with excitement but with contentment--it's not the shivery-adrenaline-stomach-bottoming-out excitement of trying something new or hurling oneself into the great beyond, but a quieter-shiver-prickle feeling waving over your skin with a rush of settling.
posted by sciatrix at 8:29 PM on April 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

TOTALLY related
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:32 PM on April 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

It's the 'someone is whispering in your ear' feeling which means you are 1) safe and 2) with someone who wants to be close to you. This can mean you are a toddler with a loving relative or a lover with your partner. It seems perfectly mundane reason-wise.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:45 PM on April 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

What’s that? I can’t hear what you’re saying. Can you just speak up, already?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:46 PM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wish someone would come up with a name for the feeling of the fullness that I sometimes get between my eyes (and in my throat), especially if I'm thinking of large numbers or outer space. When I was a kid it was 100% unpleasant but now when it happens I just enjoy the novelty of it.
posted by great_radio at 9:06 PM on April 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm really not feeling the title of this article.
posted by Reyturner at 9:37 PM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Is there a term for whatever the opposite of ASMR is?

Remember those Mazda commercials where a kid whispered "zoom zoom"? That whispering has always annoyed the crap out of me and I have the same response to some ASMR videos. I have no idea why.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:42 PM on April 6, 2019 [22 favorites]

You may have misophonia, evidence.

I have it, too, but I also experience ASMR tingles. In fact I am trying to find my comments from a few years ago where I list out all my favorites. They've gotta be somewhere.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:48 PM on April 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yes, that's misophonia. Which, for me, pegs my anxiety and dread to 11 instantly, to the point I have burst into tears in situations where I could not escape the terrible noise (which for me is largely mouth/chewing sounds but I occasionally encounter something not food-related that'll do it).
posted by Lyn Never at 9:50 PM on April 6, 2019 [13 favorites]

ASMR makes me anxious, too, but I wouldn't say I have misphonia. I think it's just maybe not as universally pleasurable as people often assume.
posted by lazuli at 9:54 PM on April 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

I recognize that feeling as described in the summary, and I thought ASMR came mostly from auditory stimuli triggering it.

I once felt it in trans support group, when I first realized gender confirmation surgery could be a real possibility for me.

I recalled after that that my mom described feeling the same way when my father passed away, as she felt "his soul leaving for Heaven."

I've never told her, I just felt the same sudden flood of comforting order. Were I more religious, I'd probably wonder if it was divine. I can't believe that's the ASMR feeling. So, so weird.
posted by ikea_femme at 9:56 PM on April 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

The first place I'd ever heard of ASMR (I don't experience it) was Metafilter. In this thread. I mentioned it to my partner a few days later, and she had that lightbulb-going-off moment that so many people describe, the realization that other people felt this thing she'd felt her whole life but never named. She listens to ASMR videos as she goes to sleep now, pretty much every night.
posted by penduluum at 10:19 PM on April 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh man, thanks so much Hermione and Lyn! I totally thought I was the only one.

What's weird is that I don't have the same reaction in person. Gotta whisper so you can tell me something quietly? No problem.

But if it's a recording in which someone is whispering for no reason I'll be irrationally grossed out. Same thing happens if I can feel someone breathing on the back of my neck.

I kinda wish I had gotten the enjoyable version of all this instead.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:22 PM on April 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

ASMR is the feeling of tingling in your scalp from listening to something. I get it. It doesn't have an emotional aspect other than the tingling feels really good for a couple of minutes.

The emotion of wonder or connectedness I get when I look up at a sky full of stars and contemplate my place in the universe or when beautiful art or literature moves me are entirely different things, as is the emotion of say watching and listening to an orchestra play something beautiful or a religious feeling.

I'm in my low 30's so I was around online when ASMR got its name and people started making videos. Originally people were calling it "brain orgasms" which doesn't quite fit and it rubs me the wrong way. The ASMR videos are super-cringe to me. There was that superbowl commercial. Crinkling or tapping sounds or young women whispering role plays do nothing for me.

My first experiences with it was in grade school when they'd do lice checks once or twice a year. The person scraping through my hair with popsicle sticks for two minutes would do it for me. Then I didn't think about it again until later in college when I found that sometimes listening to people lecture does it for me. Listening to people explain with passion about something that they really knew about would get it going and it helped if their voice had a quirk like an accent. Now this wasn't every day at class, it was a couple of times per month when someone from the outside would come in and give a 1-way lecture for an hour or whatever. I tried to figure it out and there wasn't a pattern as whether it was women or men or fatherly or motherly people or attractive people or ugly people. The most recent incident was I started listening to meditation recordings and I got it from listening to the person talking for the first week or so but after that I got used to the sound of the person's voice and it hasn't reoccurred.

The article talked about two things. There isn't any scientific energy going into it so it's people on youtube just exploring and finding what's popular and then what they do evolves whenever they find a new vein to tap. That's kind of interesting.

The other aspect of it, which I think is probably what's so off putting about the whisper videos, is that it's like porn: both the audience and the people in that film know exactly what it is they're doing and what they're there for. People don't really care that you're delivering a pizza/fixing a leak/or what you're whispering about, they just want to get to the meat, and the film makers know that and supply exactly that. And there's the aspect that ASMR tends to be young women. Perhaps males just aren't into making the videos at the same rate or perhaps there's a much larger demand to watch or listen to females. Girls commonly get more attention that boys at stuff like streaming games and being cam-girls of course. In that way, and if people just enjoy listening to the videos regardless of whether they actually get the ASMR sensation, it's at minimum a video where a girl is whispering at you. If you're lonely it could be like getting a simulation girlfriend experience.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 10:49 PM on April 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

If I understand what people are talking about – which I very well may not – I get this all the time, and it's highly pleasurable about 90% of the time and often has a strong overtone of religious awe. I believe it's what used to be spoken of as a "sense of wonder" in SFF circles, though I don't see that very often anymore.

Being constipated attenuates it, and that makes me think it's probably endo-opioid mediated.
posted by jamjam at 11:05 PM on April 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

For me the scalp tingles almost always come from something new.
I remember getting them sometimes as a little kid when something new and exciting was happening, and at the beginning of senior year in high school I got it from reading the t of c in my English Lit textbook.
But doing any of those things even a second time never produces it. I would love to get that feeling repeatably, but I never have.

I sometimes get a weird swimmy visual thing when I’m reading, where the words lens out toward me as my eyes pass over them, and there is another very pleasant feeling in my head somewhere, but it’s difficult to do on purpose.

The weird mood boost afterward is similar in both cases, but it’s elusive. I wonder if the elusive nature of it is part of its charm.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:07 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Watching people do dexterous things with their hands does it best for me. It always has, and I never had a word for it. A lot of the ASMR videos don't do it consistently, but it sometimes happens when I see them doing things with their hands. The tapping and scratching just kind of distracts for me.

I also have reasons to think that it is endo-opioide related, as mentioned above.
posted by os tuberoes at 11:08 PM on April 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

This was something I first noticed when I was in first grade. I tended to get it when our teacher was explaining a project to us in a soothing and reassuring voice. So that's often what triggers it for me: a combination of assured guidance and attention. Now I get it most potentlly when my doctor is explaining something to me. Although the sound of a tuning fork is pretty powerful too. And of course Bob Ross.

I can't speak for others, but there has never been anything sexual about it for me. Many of my favorite YouTube for ASMR are male, and I'm heterosexual male. It's much more about the reassuring attention from someone with an air of authority.

I can't tell you how grateful I am that ASMR has become a phenomenon because I used to struggle with falling asleep. Now I put on an ASMR video and I'm out like a light. It's been a WONDERFUL alternative to sleep medication.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 11:18 PM on April 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

I don't get ASMR; guess i'll just have to stick with MDMA
posted by not_on_display at 11:26 PM on April 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is something I’ve had for my entire life, though the sad thing about getting older is how the feeling has diminished immensely.

Mister Rogers, and those short wordless films on Sesame Street were some of my first exposures. Bob Ross of course. Weirdly enough, some of the PBS woodworking shows would do it too. Lots of slow manipulation of wood. Moving hands slowly over the grain. Just instant bliss for some weird reason. I know that’s a little weird, but eh.

Bled over into my feelings about music as well. Bark Psychosis and their album Hex is still a trigger, 20+ years later. Or Aphex Twin’s Rhubarb.

These days, I get my fix chiefly via massage and hair brushing videos. Psychetruth has a silly name, but they’re one of the best YouTube channels for that. I watch them muted because the sound somehow takes away from the visuals for me. For whatever reason, I get similar feelings from train cab ride videos. Can even induce the feeling via Google Street View of unfamiliar places. Brains are weird things.

For a specific video recommendation, this one never fails me. Just a pure drug. The subject matter is a bit too much woo for me, but he could be reciting the maintenance manual for a 1973 Dodge truck for all I care.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I find ASMR super relaxing (but only specific kinds of videos which I guess isn't uncommon) but I strenuously object to the name on the basis of it being a bunch of pseudotechnical jargon thrown together because it sounded sciency without actually being sciency.
posted by Justinian at 11:39 PM on April 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

If I understand what people are talking about – which I very well may not – I get this all the time, and it's highly pleasurable about 90% of the time and often has a strong overtone of religious awe. I believe it's what used to be spoken of as a "sense of wonder" in SFF circles, though I don't see that very often anymore.

This doesn't sound at all like ASMR (gag) to me. I know sensawunda from SFF circles as well and that's a completely different thing. ASMR is a completely physical relaxing feeling of tingling and warmth that spreads out from your head down your spine. That's it. As Blue Tsunami says in this thread there really isn't an emotional or any other aspect to it that might be confused with awe.

It's a feeling of tingly relaxation.
posted by Justinian at 11:43 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

My first experiences with it was in grade school when they'd do lice checks once or twice a year.

Oh man, me too. There was nothing better than lice checks, I looked forward to these as much as surprise snow days. Later on, my memory of how I felt during lice checks were a nearly tangible benchmark for this unnamed phenomena I was pretty sure made me different from regular humans.

Others: photic sneeze reflex, voluntary opening of Eustachian tubes (generates a pop/click sound), and voluntary control of tensor tympani muscles (generates rumble sound). I'm 31 and now have names for many of my idiosyncrasies, it's something I'm glad about.
posted by floam at 11:43 PM on April 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

I've been susceptible to ASMR since I was a child, but it wasn't until I encountered r/asmr that I realized why some videos work and others don't. That subreddit tags each post with [Intentional] or [Unintentional].

"Intentional" videos include whispering and tapping, and I cannot stand them.

"Unintentional" videos are often people talking in detail about something, especially describing physical objects. 2x multiplier for me if the speaker is older, i.e. 50+. I guess I find the lower-energy vocal quality of older folks preferable, maybe because an older person speaking calmly feels less put-on than a 20-year-old doing it, generally speaking.

I've got a ton of Youtube videos converted to mp3s that I use to fall asleep.
posted by good in a vacuum at 11:55 PM on April 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I first felt this as a kid when getting a haircut.

Back in 2007 before ASMR became a thing I remember booking an optometrist appt for the relaxed euphoria of it.

It was the Wikipedia content Nazis deleting the ASMR article in 2011 that brought the term to my attention..
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 12:10 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm going to join the other folks who've said that ASMR doesn't work on them and may in fact be counter productive. Nope... never felt a single tingly thing that didn't feel like a bad moment in a horror film. (My wife though, loves it)
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:13 AM on April 7, 2019

Perhaps a new name for a " little frisson of pleasure"?
posted by Cranberry at 12:28 AM on April 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don't think I have experienced anything like this, and I always feel like I'm missing out.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:31 AM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I do get ASMR sometimes. When I was little, I think it all started in the first grade. I got this feeling whenever we were read to aloud while we worked on other things. The being read to - but also just the sound of the pages being turned in the book in a mostly quiet room put me into this state.

Also - someone drawing on the back of my chair (think pencil on the back of a fiberglass school chair) did this. Also someone braiding my hair in a relaxed way (not while rushing in the morning, for instance).

The sound of my mom doing bills or paperwork at the table while I did my homework.

Someone in another room reading the newspaper.

Anytime someone whispers while explaining something to me.

Now it's office-y sounds in an otherwise quiet office. Light typing sounds, papers being riffled through, the hum of air conditioning. It also helps me get into a flow state (or, ASMR is an aspect of flow states? They seem related, somehow).

Videos that can give me ASMR are almost never the intentionally produced 'ASMR' videos. Things like unboxing videos do work for me, though.
posted by marimeko at 12:56 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Things in real life which are ASMRy:

Sound of wind rustling through leaves.
Walking on grass or sand with a satisfying snick sound.
Writing with chalk or a thick magic marker.
Having your hair rubbed.
Sound of milk or other liquids being poured.
Fizzy drink fizzing.
Hair clippers on a certain setting.
A massage chair.
From the inside, rain hitting a tent or car roof.
Popping popcorn when it's hit the peak pop stage.
Cutting construction paper.
A cat purring.

Basically, atonal sounds that are viscerally satisfying.
posted by xigxag at 1:12 AM on April 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I feel it more from incidental occurrences while people explain something during their video than from the ones who set out to do it.
posted by filtergik at 3:28 AM on April 7, 2019

Interesting to see this compared with synesthesia; I vaguely remember reading about a possible link/correlation, but cannot now track down the reference. If they are related it might help explain the variability of individual experience, ie it’s not always the same stimuli that link to the sensation.
posted by Segundus at 3:34 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, let me just explicitly say that the big emotional sense of wonder feelings (or, conversely, moments of complete relaxation, which are if anything rarer for me) are a context in which I reliably experience this sensation, but the sensation does not trigger those emotions. It's an effect for me, not a cause. And I suspect my total disinterest in YouTube videos aimed at triggering the sensation comes from the fact that these videos don't set up those emotional states for me, and I want those emotions way more than I want scalp shivers.

I don't know; I'm not particularly motivated by orgasm qua orgasm either. Those of you who don't experience the feeling, you're not--it's not like you're missing out, it's a physical sensation and a fairly minor one at that. All the really incredibly good shit, the sense of wonder and connection with the world, the sense of connection and being cared for, that shit is accessible to absolutely everyone. It's just that certain activities and physical sensations trigger that headspace for some people and certain others don't. But the headspace isn't synonymous with a physical feeling, and for my money it's the headspace that's the source of the really good feelings.
posted by sciatrix at 4:46 AM on April 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don't experience ASMR. I've read all of the explanations, and I've watched numerous ASMR videos (out of curiosity)...and it's hard for me to imagine what people are even talking about.

Unless...does that trancey state induced by the sound of loud, rushing water count as ASMR? If I stand near a waterfall for a few minutes, I start feeling very calm and centered. I assumed that was fairly universal, though – hence the popularity of white noise machines and apps for sleeping and relaxation. (I get similar feelings from crackling fire.)

Based on the variety of personal anecdotes I've heard from ASMR fans – I suspect that we aren't dealing with a single phenomenon. Some people describe the scalp tingles ("true" ASMR, I guess). Other people say "I don't get the scalp tingles, but I find it super relaxing to hear someone whispering in a reassuring way". Other people don't care so much about talking, but enjoy finely textured sounds such as crinkling and sifting (akin to my white noise example above). And so on.

I suspect that a lot of people respond to these videos simply because it prompts them to focus their attention on an unobtrusive stimulus in a way that people usually don't. So much media is designed to be LOUD and DRAMATIC and DYNAMIC and ATTENTION-GRABBING – people don't even know what it's like to just be with a thing.

It'd be super interesting to see "ASMR responsiveness" correlated with various personality metrics. Are more empathic people more likely to respond to ASMR, for example?

And: you have to admit that the phenomenon of ASMR is super weird. Not in a "you're weird if you like this" kind of way; just...I mean, come on; the shit is weird. It's super popular, so there are hundreds of creators striving to make their content stand out, so you get all these niche genres and (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) bizarro things. It's very much a phenomenon of the internet, and I appreciate that anarchic grass-roots aspect even if I don't really understand it.

(A friend and I got baked one night, and I discovered that she'd never heard of ASMR. We spend a solid hour marveling at the variety of videos on YouTube. I decided that I want to make an ASMR video at a Trump rally.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:05 AM on April 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Certain types of crinkly paper have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a small child I knew how to manipulate the pages of a book or magazine to produce a certain sound that fascinated and calmed me, a cascade of paper noise. Similarly, I was (and still am) drawn to the particular popping sound of certain film soundtracks—mostly those of big-budget 1960s films. Something about the specific quality of voices and sound effects. More recent films don’t have that quality.

I always thought my fascination with these things was peculiar as nobody else around me evinced anything similar. So I was relieved to learn that in fact there are others similarly affected. I don’t know about the scalp tingles, but I do derive intense pleasure from specific sounds that’s difficult to describe.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:09 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites] seems an oversight that the article does not mention those Tingler Head Massagers that were quite popular back in the '90s. They aren't exactly hard to find on Google, or in airport novelty gadget stores.
posted by eviemath at 5:12 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just the other day a coworker and I were talking about how great some Mike Tyson ASMR would be.

"Now I'm whifpering in your ear... now I'm nibblin' it... now I'm bitin' it wight off..."
posted by clawsoon at 5:13 AM on April 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Tingler Head Massagers

ASMR is a tactile sensation induced by audio and visual stimuli, though – kind of a synesthesia. Massage isn't really that.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:19 AM on April 7, 2019

I don't get it at all. Every description that's been given in here is completely alien to me. I'm kind of bummed, tbh.

I do prefer to fall asleep to the sound of someone talking, but tone of voice doesn't matter. It makes me feel like a kid again, falling asleep to the sound of my parents talking in the other room, or the sound of NPR on their clock radio. I listen to podcasts, but as long as it's not describing something distressing, any podcast will do.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:30 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I occasionally get a pleasant ASMR experience when I go to the opticians, since it combines whispering and light touching and such. I have very rarely gotten it from any of the YouTube ASMR videos, which seem to be largely about people whispering - in my case, necessary but far from sufficient.

For that reason, I’m not at all convinced that people are talking about the same thing when they talk about ASMR. At least for myself, I need some kind of tactile stimulation, or a simulation thereof. I have idly thought of doing ASMR immersive theatre where someone pretends to be an optician or such, but doesn’t need all the expensive training. I’d definitely pay for that!
posted by adrianhon at 6:20 AM on April 7, 2019

When people first started talking about this all over the internet, I was CERTAIN it was a fetish thing. I'm still not sure it isn't.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:30 AM on April 7, 2019

ASMR is a tactile sensation induced by audio and visual stimuli, though – kind of a synesthesia. Massage isn't really that.

ASMR is not well-defined, though. Another Mefite mentioned elementary school head lice checks giving them the same tingly scalp feeling; and in the linked article, the author visits a practitioner who uses light touch as well as auditory stimuli. Lots of ASMR videos on YouTube apparently evoke that light touch experience, too, with role plays around playing with the viewer's hair or other grooming tasks, according to past posts on the topic. Maybe the YouTube videos simply induce people with the right sort of imaginations to feel the same sensations as they would with the physical stimulus, along the same lines as visualization exercises for practicing a skill that requires muscle coordination (like playing the piano), certain types of meditation, Phantom limb syndrome, etc.

In short, I'm highly dubious that ASMR is actually a brand new, never before described phenomenon (though I find it entirely believable that there is not much medical research on the "hey, this is a nice tingly sensation" end of things). I find it much more likely (though sad) that a bunch of younger-than-me folks on the internet hadn't ever had experiences with pleasant-tingle-(not-necessarilu-sexual)-inducing touch, and so didn't have that reference point for describing what they experienced instead/also via auditory stimuli. (And also, I know some folks who don't get scalp tingles from any stimuli, some seem to only get them from the physical stimuli but not the auditory/visual stimuli, some the opposite, some both. It can be a similar nervous system mechanism yet vary between people in how it is induced.)
posted by eviemath at 6:38 AM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Interesting to see this compared with synesthesia; I vaguely remember reading about a possible link/correlation, but cannot now track down the reference.

I can see at least one similarity.
posted by thelonius at 6:42 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

showbiz_liz: Do you mean "fetish" in the original sense (i.e., erotic interest in inanimate objects or specific body parts, such as feet) – or in the colloquial sense (i.e., any kind of kink)?

I've never picked up on any kind of sexual vibe from the object-based stuff (e.g., crinkling paper or smooshing gel). However, there is definitely a borderline-porny subgenre of the talky stuff. Attractive young women, whispering sweet, affectionate, reassuring things to the viewer, sometimes laying in bed or in other intimate settings. Once you find it, your YouTube sidebar will be chock full of the stuff. It's apparently (and, I suppose, unsurprisingly) quite popular.

On the one hand, I don't believe in yucking someone else's yum – and I do wish that more erotic entertainment acknowledged emotional intimacy, because (for me, anyway) mashing organs together is only half of the point of sex. (Granted, it's an important part.) On the other hand...the girlfriend-roleplay ASMR strikes me as kind of sad (as in "wow, our world is creating all sorts of loneliness" – not "wow, what a bunch of losers"). It's the waifu pillow of the ASMR world.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:45 AM on April 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

The young women whispering makes me think of mothers whispering their babies to sleep. I'm not even a mother, and I've done it with my daughter.

However, many men are trained to squash all feelings of intimacy into the box of sexual intimacy, so I'm not surprised if even the most innocent stuff gets sexualized by some viewers.

But if it's a mutual thing, and that's what turns you on, then why not? Lots of things can go into two people creating a magical experience with each other.
posted by clawsoon at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

whenever they find a new vein to tap
I see what you did there...
posted by omegar at 7:44 AM on April 7, 2019

I get it from Kate Bush. Starts right on the line where she sings "I put on my pointed hat" and morphs into full body chills by the end of the track. Every. Single. Time. Louder the better.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

There have been a couple of long form videos of a man in Germany working in a purely magnificent woodshop on big projects that literally take weeks to make. No talking whatsoever, very controlled lighting, and what have to be the sharpest tools ever made. It's the most relaxing and enjoyable tingly experience I've ever found.

Fake fingernails tapping on a live mike are just not doing it for me.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2019

I have experienced ASMR with fizzing drinks and purring cats and writing sounds.

However, there is a somewhat related sensation that is definitely not ASMR that I can induce, but which I have no name for, and which the ASMR phenomenon has made virtually impossible to research. Every time I’ve tried to do a deep dive on the sensation to explore it, I turn up “ASMR” and I’m like, nope, not that.

Basically, I can arbitrarily induce and sustain a sensation of weightlessness, almost as if I’m just a moment before floating off the bed. I’m not sure how I do it, but it feels like the feeling starts at my chest, builds in intensity as the wave travels through my torso, and then into my legs. The episode lasts no more than about five seconds and terminates with the skin on my thighs tingling with goosebumps.

I can induce this without external stimulus and it’s repeatable. It feels like if I were to continue to induce the feeling, I would start glowing and levitate. Yes, I know that’s silly, but I’m describing the sensation. But I do have very vivid dreams of levitation and the sensation reminds me of what I remember feeling in those dreams, so somehow the notions are connected.

It’s not really a sexual sensation. It feels more like I’m able to induce a microburst release of adrenaline, or something. But the after effects are complete normalcy a few seconds later.

Never been able to figure out what it is.
posted by darkstar at 8:50 AM on April 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

certain textures are pleasing to me

I like rusty spoons
posted by flabdablet at 9:09 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

There have been a few scientific articles published on ASMR in recent years. One suggests that people who experience ASMR may have a slightly different wiring of frontal lobes to sensory and attentional regions in other areas of the brain, which I thought was interesting.
posted by k8bot at 9:24 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had no idea that this clinical-sounding name was developed without clinical or medical research. Huh! I look forward to what the research community investigates as the mechanism for ASMR.
Then, around 2009... she got a result on a message board called SteadyHealth. The post was titled WEIRD SENSATION FEELS GOOD
I've always liked stories in which the harnessing of our privately shared weirdnesses culminates in collective intelligence and understanding.

Then I got curious about whether MeFites had posted about similar things:

2005, What is this tingling sensation?
2005, What is causing this tingling in my body?
2005, Electricity down my back: "is this entirely mental"

For all I know, she read these too. But I like to think we coulda named this thing, MeFites!
posted by nicodine at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Here's a general thing. In this motley and complicated world of ours, you meet a new thing. You don't get it, but people tell you it's real.

Your first reaction is to tell those people that they are all wrong and they don't actually feel what they tell you they feel and that your knee-jerk feeling of displeasure when faced with something new is the actually the true and correct view.

This means that you don't actually get to tell other people what their experience is. Yes, you don't actually get to tell others what they feel, and how what they feel is in truth a gross fetish which you disapprove of.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:00 AM on April 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

Is that lecture directed at any comment or member in particular, Pyrogenesis? Because I don't see anyone here doing the unkind thing that you've described.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

In retrospect, I may have been more pissed off about previous asmr threads than this one, so apologies. But, just as an example, asmr is not a fetish, and showbiz liz, a mefite who is awesome, may have irked me a little bit.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2019

Haven't seen in mentioned yet in the thread so - the starting point for this, for me (and I think more than a few people) was that "virtual haircut" binaural recording demo that's been going around for ages. I was always really impressed by its ability to recreate a pleasant back-of-the-neck sensation I'd get during an actual haircut, and that's what first got me wondering if there was a term for that experience.

I thought it was pretty cool when this became a Thing on YT and reddit, and got a name (even if it never really made that much sense). But I was a little disappointed when it became so heavily about the whispering videos, because I kinda liked it more when people were sharing *found* videos of calligraphy or whatever? And at some point the novelty sorta wore off. But this makes me want to check out what the ASMR people are doing now.
posted by atoxyl at 11:01 AM on April 7, 2019

I used to read the notion of "the hair on the back of my neck stood on end" as one of relaxation rather than anxiety, and got very confused while reading certain YA novels as a gradeschooler.

I also recall someone on a Seattle-area BBS saying that he could dilate the capillaries in his scalp on command, generating goosebumps on his head that he couldn't feel with his fingers. Someone else told him it sounded like a healthy thing for his circulation and he said he'd keep doing it.

But the thing was that when I read tales about the "enchantment of a moment" or similar poetic language, I always parsed it directly as an ASMR experience.

I think it was actually an early MeFi ASMR post that gave me my first "Wait, there's a name for it now? Cool!" moment.

For me it was always about delicacy of movement and sound. Care being taken, and subtlety being the focus of attention. The moment I used to be able to re-play in my head was a friend of mine at church being super careful with the latch of a door while a service was in progress. The delicate click of the latch and the progression from ordinary stride forward to the intense care taken with the handle was a reliable trigger for me, even from pure memory.

Of course there's a lot of anxiety around masculinity that will allow more people to be receptive of this kind of delicate focused attention from more feminine presences. I remember as an adult having a masseur tell me I had all this tension in my glutes and I kind of smiled weakly and thought "oh ha that's cuz you're a dude and I'm uncomfortable about that" but didn't say anything. And then years later had a masseuse who did a very good job on my back while my then-pregnant wife got a specialised treatment in the same room, but the way she whispered before leaving us to get up made me think "oh shit I could just float here for hours now".

But thanks for that Qi Gong video, Teegeeack AV Club Secretary! It actually reminds me of some ASMR I used to get after Confession in the Russian Orthodox church: the priest would put his stole over your head afterward and intone prayers while tracing crosses on the fabric, and it would always send me out in a floaty euphoric daze.

I still never told the priest what was really going on, though...
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:20 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

that "virtual haircut" binaural recording demo

oh god NO
i just discovered i must have whatever the opposite of asmr-receptivity is because my scalp, neck, and ribcage just shuddered and recoiled in revulsion
that's such a miserable cluster of sensations to me and
oh my god
(the vibrational misery of having my teeth cleaned by a dentist is worse, but haircuts are a pretty close second in sensory nope-age)
posted by halation at 11:54 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

(like, i literally haven't gotten my hair cut in close to a year largely for this reason, and the concept that there are people who recreate the sensation for pleasure is blowing my mind rn -- good on them, but wow, is human experience ever a rich and varied tapestry)
posted by halation at 11:56 AM on April 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Came back to just say that the first time I realised ASMR videos had gone past whispering and unwrapping things was Plague Doctor Melon ASMR in 2014.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:56 AM on April 7, 2019 [6 favorites]




did I just watch?
posted by darkstar at 12:27 PM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I experience ASMR above a certain threshold of intensity, in addition to the usual rippling chills and goosebumps, which usually start on one side of my body and spread to the other, by the way, I also get a pronounced sensation of blood vessels opening up in my head which is heralded by series of popping noises.
posted by jamjam at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Okay, I mean maybe if plague doctors diagnosing melons isn't your thing, perhaps you'd prefer a sleestak harvesting your life force to feed a living sanitarium?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:48 PM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I get this very strongly and nowhere so much as being in the next room when my piano is being tuned. It's so pleasurable that I schedule my tunings when I can be there and when nothing else will interrupt it. I'm getting it a little bit now just writing about it.

I wish someone would come up with a name for the feeling of the fullness that I sometimes get between my eyes (and in my throat), especially if I'm thinking of large numbers or outer space. When I was a kid it was 100% unpleasant but now when it happens I just enjoy the novelty of it.

I feel this as an entirely different experience. Sometimes as a child I got this feeling where my fingers and limbs felt very fat, like monolithic tubes, or like the branching of cauliflower. I never had an explanation for it. Later as a young adult, I read A Perfect Vacuum, a collection of short stories in the form of reviews of non-existent books, by Stanisław Lem. One of those short stories/reviews, Being Inc., describes that feeling. He called it elephantiasis, but referring to the mental realm, not one's body. This might be what you experienced.
posted by M-x shell at 1:43 PM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by clavdivs at 3:12 PM on April 7, 2019

I appreciated the article. Thanks, homunculus!

Chiming in with a recent AskMe thread, and a "What is ASMR and Can I Make An ASMR video" video by Safiya Nygaard.
The AskMe might help people understand/research for themselves.
The Nygaard video is lighthearted. I find the first part - describing the phenomenon and the YouTubery and talking with Gibi - actively entertaining. The second part, where the whispering is too low in volume for me to comfortably perceive, I can skip.

In the past few years, as I use ASMR videos at work to tune out my co-workers in an open-plan-no-cubicle office, I have spent a lot of time puzzling out triggers and wondering when people will get a comprehensive study together.

Personal triggers:
- low-volume calm talking, a la Bob Ross. By comparison, hissy whispery speech hits my annoyance button.
- when I was kid, haircuts.
- Certain vacuum-cleaner motor frequencies. The old Kirby Omega in my childhood home.
- Certain snowblower motor frequencies.

Phenomena which I think might be related, but we'll never know until people get a comprehensive study together:
- the classical music "frisson" - hey, supposedly some studies have been done about that.
- chills/goosebumps while urinating - another phenomena I experienced more as a child, and which was characterized as "p!ss shiver" in a Straight Dope question chain.

It just seems like the same end result (goosebumps/sensation of cold) can be triggered through different pathways originating in separate phenomena, and can link with other end results (feelings of calmness, feelings of floating) whose association differs in strength across people. I wish articles like the NYT one could be comfortable saying that.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 3:51 PM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am an ASMR junkie (like, I started a blog of all my favourite vids back when I thought it was just a phase I was going through. 400+ entries later...) and I love all the weird RPs and nutty storytelling techniques that people come up with. Medieval folk healer? Black market plastic surgeon? Simone de Beauvoir? Sure!

But I cannot stand some of the most common triggers in real life. Don't like kissing noises, loud eating, whispering, mumbling, and I find haircuts deeply stressful. Throw them in a video though and I'm nodding off.

As more ASMRtists get seriously popular I hope we see more POC creators getting some shine. Oh, and the kid channels are just flat-out offputting, and as Wired pointed out the source of all sorts of predictable ghastliness.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 4:19 PM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

To be fair on the fetish thing, in the apparently first ever ASMR video, linked in the NYT article, the whispering narrator describes it as "ummm, I don't know, a weird fetish or something".
posted by Rumple at 11:25 PM on April 7, 2019

I can't believe I've never made the connection to lowercase music before (which has been around much longer than ASMR – since the 90s).

Lowercase consists of very small, sparse sounds – paper being manipulated, balloons being tapped, substances such as sand being shifted around – captured by fancy microphones, often punctuated by long silences. The more object-based ASMR videos are essentially lowercase performances.

(One album's master was famously (and perhaps apocryphally) returned to the label by the CD manufacturing plant, because they thought it was blank or defective. It's very minimal stuff – almost conceptual music.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:15 AM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

My trigger is primarily watching someone do a task for me, ideally in a sound-deadened room with ambient noise in the background. For example, the most recent time was when I took my kid's bike in for repairs. I stood in the back room watching the man silently do his work, with the murmurings of other customers in the front room and the hum of fluorescent lights above. I nearly passed out.

That's hard to recreate on video, but I do watch them to relax and fall asleep. One of my current favorites is this robot repair video from Dana ASMR (robot repair seemed to have a moment year ago when everyone was doing them) . Most of her videos are in Korean, and they're very well produced.

Also great is Goodnight Moon, who does an amazing series of long, well though out videos of characters from her Babblebrook series.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:28 AM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

ASMR has hit the bigtime—beer commercials.
posted by sonascope at 1:04 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the Wired article somebody linked:

On June 3 2018, Makenna Kelly, a 13-year old from Fort Collins, Colorado, uploaded the video that propelled her to internet stardom. Entitled “Eating Raw Honeycomb – EXTREMELY Sticky Mouth Sounds”

Why have we not already taken to the streets? Why are we not tearing fiber optic cables out of the ground with our shovels, picks, and bare hands?
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:07 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Does anyone else get a non-pleasurable ASMR?

I have various reactions that are all really unpleasant, from mild irritation to sweeping chills that make me want to punch someone, monkey brain "make that stop" by any means necessary.

This whole thing was amazing to me when it first started, in the same way if half the world was talking about how great it was to listen to fingernails on a blackboard. Because it's pretty much the same thing to me.

I remember when I was a kid it was a thing at school to do these kind of things to other kids to bug them and make them uncomfortable.

But I really like ambient and atmospheric music and sounds and listen to that a lot.
posted by bongo_x at 1:44 PM on April 8, 2019

Like schoolgirl report, my triggers are people doing tasks-- window washing, repairs/maintenance, etc. Meticulous work. Doesn't happen often as I age but it still happens. The only YT ASMR videos that came even close to triggering me are shoe polishing videos and even then that's a tossup.
posted by Baphomet's Prime at 1:53 PM on April 8, 2019

I don't get ASMR—I get the described sensations of ASMR; and very rarely—only when I hear particular pieces of music for the first time. I can never tell when it's gonna hit. Very few pieces of music can evoke it multiple times.

But those soft quiet sounds? I'm surprised ASMR people aren't instantly orgasming all over the place, cause those sounds are ubiquitous.
posted by not_on_display at 9:47 PM on April 8, 2019

not_on_display: For me it is rather context dependent, and it has to have a particular delicacy to it. I think there are a lot of videos labelled "ASMR" that just have someone hurrying through a bunch of white noise sounds, and that has no effect on me.

A lot of this seems to be personal, but I have negative reactions to most of the microphone-rubbing or mouth-sounds videos. I'd love to hear from someone who really zones out from those kinds of things, but they actually tense me up in annoyance.

That said, if someone is whispering gently and wistfully and there's that single unintended delicate sound of soft palate and tongue that makes it to the mic? That can be a great trigger. And I don't like the "rattling acetate packaging like it's a cat toy", but used to get tingles from wordless Japanese toy demo videos that unintentionally crinkled the wrapping occasionally as they delicately pulled the products out of their packaging.

But it's like salt: just a pinch, thanks!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2019

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