I was five years old, sitting in my grandma’s living room waiting for my mom to pick me up. I had to be quiet because my baby cousin was sleeping and my grandma was sitting next to me making sure I didn’t make a peep. She was reading to herself in a very soft whisper, I could barely make out the words. But all of a sudden, I felt a tingle down my spine and up my neck. The tingle sat on top of my head and it was almost like all the hairs on my head were standing on point. I began to drift off to sleep sitting there, listening to my grandma until I was interrupted by the knock on the door.
The only reason that memory is still floating in my head is because I felt those tingles when I was at the library and I would hear quiet whispers, when I would turn a page on a book, when I would tap my fingers, and many other ways. If at this point you think I’m some sort of a freak, trust me I though I was a freak until one day…
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or cognitive stimuli.
Ok, so if I’m a freak, I certainly am not the only one out there. After watching the segment on ASMR I hopped on YouTube and searched for ASMR videos. The search received about 240,000 results. I started to look through the results and some videos had over 1 million views, some had 10 million views. Some Youtube profiles had over 200 videos made. I was mesmerized, it was as if I had run into a new world that few people knew about.
The video producers call themselves ASMRtists and they take requests from their viewers. Some do a combination of sounds using brushes, beads, notebooks, mortar and pestles, buttons, shirts that crinkle, and even folding towels, to help the viewer find out what their “binural triggers” are. Most of these videos are intended to help you relax to fall asleep or to help you unwind. If you venture to watch a video, you will find that the ASMRtists whisper into highly sensitive microphones that maximize the sounds. These artists also experience the same tingles as their viewers do, you’ll hear that some of then often make references to Bob Ross and the way he talked while he painted happy trees.
One profile that caught my attention is GentleWhispering and her notebook video. Remember, the sounds of pages turning soothed me to sleep when I was five years old so I thought that it might have the same effect.
I fell asleep watching the video so I didn’t get to finish it, but after that I knew I was hooked. I have no idea how to explain why these sounds have the affect they do.
Despite its mystery, “a lot is known about the physiological states associated with ASMR — relaxation, euphoria, comfort,” Richard says. “It’s the same molecules involved when an infant is comforted by its mother. . . . It’s endorphins, it’s oxytocin, it’s serotonin.”
Recently, I learned that my mother found similar sounds soothing when she told me she found herself in a zombie-like state when one of her co-workers was flipping through papers and writing notes down with a pencil. I’m not sure if this is hereditary and maybe one day we will understand more about ASMR and why some feel so calm when listening to the sounds of tapping. Until then, I’m going to keep watching my videos to relax away the stress of the day.