ASMR: The Head Tingles

You’re at the barber shop, and the barber brings the razor down the back of your neck. While they do this, you get this odd tingling sensation in your skull, and it might go down to your neck and even your spine. Or maybe you don’t get this at all. Not everyone does, but if you have, you’re not the only one. This phenomenon actually has a name – Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a relatively new scientific discovery that has only recently surfaced. The name was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, the founder of The phenomenon has since grown in popularity on the internet, spawning YouTube videos, ASMR discussion forums, and scrutiny among the scientific community. Several triggers of ASMR include:

  • Listening to someone with an accent or a unique speech pattern
  • Watching educational or instructional videos
  • Watching someone complete a task
  • Haircuts
  • Close, personal attention from someone (make-over, eye exam, etc.)

The use of YouTube videos as a “trigger” for ASMR has grown intensely among the online community. These videos use sounds such as crinkling bags, soft whispering, role playing methods, and other non-sensical sounds to trigger ASMR in people. Although these videos may sound boring or even weird, they are considered to be quite popular. The leading ASMR Youtuber, GentleWhispering, has 78,000 subscribers to her channel as well as 12 million video views. Another popular ASMR YouTube personality is the late Bob Ross, a painter who had his own PBS show. Clips of his show, “The Joy of Painting,” have recently found new fame on YouTube, and all thanks to the growing number of ASMR enthusiasts that watch his show for a good trigger or two. A user from YouTube, MrKoiking1, quotes, “I don’t even paint, I just like his voice”.

Although the ASMR phenomenon is still relatively new, ASMR forums have popped up on the internet like wildfire. A popular one is the “ASMR” section of popular social networking site “Reddit”. A quick Google search for “ASMR forum” churns up about 150,000 results. These forums typically contain links to ASMR videos as well as threads for ASMR enthusiasts to talk about what triggers them.

There has been a significant drought of scientific research into ASMR because, as Professor Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield says, “It might well be a real thing, but it’s inherently difficult to research. 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. It’s like synesthesia –  for years it was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it.” The Wikipedia article for ASMR has been taken down repeatedly on the basis that it lacks scientific evidence. Another obstacle that hinders research of ASMR is that there is no single cause for it – ASMR enthusiasts can be triggered in multiple different ways, and not all of them can be triggered by the same thing.