In biological terms, melodious sounds help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain, as would eating a delicacy, looking at something appealing or smelling a pleasant aroma, said Dr. Amit Sood, a physician of integrative medicine with the Mayo Clinic.
Or, ASMR could just be a way of activating the pleasure response. Vertebrate brains are fundamentally hardwired for pleasure and pain – for positive and negative behavioral feedback. We are rewarded with a pleasurable sensation for doing things and experiencing things that increase our survival probability, and have a negative or painful experience to make us avoid harmful behavior or warn us about potential danger or injury. Over evolutionary time a complex set of reward and aversion feedbacks have developed.
While ASMR can include sensations triggered by touch (haircut, massage or pedicure) the other triggers are much more fascinating. The ASMR website offers a few examples of common triggers such as listening to unique speech patterns or "watching someone complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner."
This "condition" hasn't been formerly researched yet, as the knowledge of the phenomenon is fairly new. This is understandable. If most people with the condition are like me, it seemed commonplace.
Most ASMR-ers are in the closet about this, because how in the world would you interject it into a conversation? And frankly, if someone were to find a bookmark folder of nothing but people wrapping presents and crinkling packages, you’d probably think they had the world’s strangest fetish, and that they got booked for indecent exposure at the post office some time in their life. It just seems odd.
Whisper videos are just one branch of a YouTube subculture of ASMRers making, discovering, and promoting videos for their triggering properties. Some videos unintentionally cause the tingles—makeup tutorials are an ASMR goldmine, as are vlogs from people with deep, resonant voices. Other videos are more calculated. There’s a whole cottage industry of YouTubers, usually with “whisper” in their screennames, who have created hundreds of videos where they talk softly, eat Oreos while tapping conspicuously on a mug, or pretend to be travel agents, doctors, or hair stylists—however many fake haircut videos you think there are on YouTube, there are more than that, and people love them.
But whoever coined the term ASMR has, by giving it a vaguely medical-sounding label, helped people to shrug off some of that guilt; and has also brought them together as a community via an easily-searchable term. Check the comments sections of ASMR videos and you'll find hundreds of people saying things like "Oh! I get that! I didn't know it was a thing!". Andrew MacMuiris, who is involved in a research project at asmr-research.org, sees these forums as crucial for providing validation for those who are worried about how "normal" this all is.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (colloquially referred to simply as the “brain tingles”) is not officially recognized as a condition by the medical community, but there is a rapidly-growing contingent of us online, swapping videos of people doing nothing more than quietly telling each other what’s going on in their lives.
As a community, we have decided that April 9 is now International ASMR Day, and we will (or did, by time of printing) celebrate it by sitting down with a cup of hot tea and just listening to each other.
In other words, they're rather like brain orgasms, or braingasms if you're into portmanteaus. Never would I have thought that listening to a young woman offering me a hand relaxation whisper session, or a Japanese man making pretend food, or someone building the Burj Khalifa out of Lego, would be the key to falling asleep every night after years and years of struggle.
ASMR is a strange beast to describe to those that have never experienced it.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs.
Most ASMR episodes begin by an external or internal trigger, and are so divided for classification. Type A episodes are elicited by the experiencer using no external stimuli, and are typically achieved by specific thought patterns unique to the individual. Type B episodes are triggered involuntarily by an external trigger, via one or more senses, and may also involve specific thought patterns associated with the triggering event.