Blog Post

The Head Tingling Joy of ASMR

52391955 - illustration of the thought processes in the brainSN asks: “What is autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) and is this affiliated with the New Age or the occult?”

I’m happy to report that ASMR is not affiliated with either the New Age or the occult, nor is it backed by any credible science.

The term was first coined in 2010 by a cybersecurity professional from New York named Jennifer Allen who started an ASMR Facebook page that has garnered over 41,000 likes since it was established in 2011.

According to the ASMR University, this phenomenon is described as physical sensations such as tingles or chills that begin at the back of the head and radiate down into the rest of the body. These sensations typically cause feelings of euphoria, happiness, comfort, calmness, relaxation, etc. They are often referred to as “head tingles,” “brain tingles”, “brain massage” etc.

ASMR requires some kind of “trigger” such as light touch, eye gazing, slow hand movements, or some kind of sound such as whispers and blowing or tapping and scratching. These stimuli generally involve a repetitive, methodical, steady pace or volume in order to trigger an ASMR.

Steven Novella, M.D., a clinical neurologist at Yale, commented on the diverse list of triggers and said, “ . . . I can see what they all have in common. They all seem to engage the same networks of the brain – that part of us that interacts carefully and thoughtfully with our environment or with other people. There is something calmly satisfying about such things.” 

Dr. Novella believes the phenomenon could even be a kind of seizure.

So what does the science say?

Not much other than that ASMR does exist.

“What we need at this point are functional MRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation studies that look at what is happening in the brains of people while experiencing ASMR, vs typical controls,” Dr. Novella suggests.

One such study was conducted in 2015 by researchers using functional MRI’s on a control group of 22 patients – 11 with ASMR and 11 without. The results found that there were significant differences in the default mode network (refers to an interconnected group of brain structures that are believed to be part of a functional system).

If the cause of ASMR could be discovered, ASMR could possibly be used to treat people with insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

However, as Dr. Novella posits, more testing of this phenomenon is needed to determine exactly what it is and what, if anything, it is good for other than producing a pleasurable sensation.