Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
What is ASMR?
From ancient times to the present day, humans have often had a range of pleasurable responses to highly sensitive contact, communication or sensory experience of different kinds, such as ultra-light touch, quiet musical-meditation vibrations, affectionate eye contact, non-judgmental dialogue, or gentle soundscapes of nature. Today, some people in the psychiatric drug withdrawal community have been reporting achieving meaningful levels of symptom relief and deep relaxation from a particular, increasingly popular modern technique of this kind that’s being dubbed “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” or ASMR.
There are growing numbers of popular ASMR videos available for free viewing online. Most of them involve someone speaking directly to the viewer in a whisper or soft voice and in a slow, attentive way, and are intended to be listened to with headphones on. The scenarios depicted, or role-played, are often personal, intimate and sensual (though not typically sexual) ones: going to a spa, having your make-up done or your face shaved, getting an eye exam. Some of the many common sounds that are used alongside and that appear to trigger deep responses in many people—in addition to whispering—are hair brushing, finger tapping, turning pages, typing, or scratching. Some people say that their first experience of an ASMR kind of response came spontaneously while watching the soft-spoken painter Bob Ross on TV as he cleaned his brushes or scraped his paint knife against a canvas.
For those who are sensitive to this phenomenon, the feeling is said to be a deeply relaxing one. Some describe it as a kind of head rush or tingling at the back of the scalp that may travel down the spine to the limbs, offering a feeling of well-being. Some report that it offers relief from stress, insomnia, despair, anxiety, or pain — and within the withdrawal community specifically, some report achieving temporary symptom relief from ASMR videos when nothing else has helped. After experiencing an ASMR video, some people comment that they recall having a similar response in real-life situations such as having their head massaged, receiving a facial, getting a haircut, or feeling someone draw on their back. Not everyone responds to ASMR videos in this way (or at all), and it’s unknown why that’s the case, or what percentage of people have a reaction. And at this time there are no explanations for this phenomenon within Western mainstream science. But it’s easy to try a video out for yourself for a few minutes to see if you’re one of the people who can enjoy the experience! Though keep in mind that, among those who do experience ASMR, many people appear to have their own unique set of triggers, so it may take some trial and error to find the ones that work best for you.
Where can I find more information?
- Searching online for “ASMR” videos will turn up many examples, such as this video channel from Maria of GentleWhispering
- An article in the Smithsonian Magazine called “How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR.”
- An article about ASMR in the Atlantic Monthly.