ASMR: What Is This Tingling Sensation in My Head?
The Unnamed Feeling…
When I was a young boy, I remember having these experiences where I would listen to the radio on the bed. I would have my head pressed right up against it as I lay there, taking in every word—to the point where it actually left deep grooves in the side of my head (they went away eventually, don’t worry.)
I also clearly remember when I was about eight or so, sitting outside in the sun on the back porch, near the pool, listening to the old gardener we used to have years ago whistle while he worked. I was just so caught up in the moment and had these intense tingling sensations just flow from my head.
This was the beginning of a life-long journey that would bring me to my most recent discoveries, and attempts to try to get behind the origin of this seemingly undocumented phenomenon—something that I had taken for granted for years, and hadn’t known if anyone else had ever experienced the same feeling.
I continued to have these sensations throughout my childhood, my teenage years, and in to adulthood. It was only in 2009 that I searched for something related for the first time online, even though I had the internet for years, and came across a forum where people were discussing this exact thing; a strange, but pleasurable feeling that felt like tingles in the head—which some described as akin to an orgasm or perhaps being on a high after recreational drug use. Some addicts who also experience these sensations claim it even rivals ecstasy as far as the effects are concerned.
I naturally read through this two-part series of threads where people talked about it and gave their opinions on what it was, as well as what caused it. Not only that but I began to search for other threads similar in topic, and also began to actively try and experience this sensation more and more often. One thing I did was to start collecting audio clips, watch video clips online, listen to the radio, and watch certain programs on TV that were dead certs—that is to say, guaranteed to create this head tingling sensation.
ASMR and Other Terms
I started to plan a blog, which I felt would be part of a pioneering effort in a niche which had up to that point been untapped—or so it seemed. It was early in 2010 that I finally unleashed The Unnamed Feeling blog upon the internet; a blog that is dedicated to news, commentary, theories, and the sharing of stories regarding my experiences with this phenomenon. This unexplained thing first became known as AIHO (Attention-Induced Head Orgasm), then AIE (Attention-Induced Euphoria)—for those looking for a less sexual approach. Several other acronyms came about like ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response)—probably one of the most widely used. Some casual or humourous terms for it include braingasms, headgasms, and WHS (Weird Head Sensation.)
"I remember when I was eight, sitting outside near the pool, listening to the old gardener whistle while he worked. I was just so caught up in the moment, and had these intense tingling sensations just flow from my head."
So how do you know if you happen to experience ASMR? A number of causes or triggers are shared by people, which I will list here. If you happen to have anything in common with these, then you might be an experiencer of ASMR.
- Listening to specific people talk (usually soft-spoken or well-spoken voices or whispers.)
- Listening to the radio or podcasts when these people are talking.
- Watching certain TV programs or YouTube videos, like instructional ones, infomercials, adverts, historical or factual programs.
- People talking in a foreign or indigenous language, other than your own.
- Getting tickled lightly, especially on the back or shoulders.
- When someone strokes or plays with your hair softly.
- Having your hair washed and cut at a salon.
- When you listen to certain soft or distant, and usually repetitive, sounds like a bouncing tennis ball, trickling water, or construction noises like tapping hammers.
- Listening to certain types of music—perhaps ambient or industrial for instance, or songs with soft lyrics.
- Watching someone draw a picture, paint, or build something, perhaps like a sculpture or even a card tower.
- Watching someone write.
- Someone drawing on your body.
- People reading a newspaper over your shoulder.
- People looking for something in their handbags.
- Someone doing something very slowly and carefully.
- People working at computers; perhaps the sound of keys being tapped or the click of a mouse.
- Listening to someone chew gum.
- Someone using sign language, or signing.
- People whispering.
- Listening to elderly people talk—the slow, methodical way they speak.
- Listening to strangers talk, rather than family or friends and more well-known individuals in one’s life.
- From reading various pieces of reading material.
- Someone showing you how to do something.
- Someone clipping their nails or using a nail file.
Possible Symptoms and Side Effects
Symptoms or side effects that might occur after or during the sensation which might be caused by one or several of the above triggers, and experienced by only some of the ASMR population, include:
- A headache (usually just a slight one however.)
- Slight nausea.
- Tiredness, probably due to the relaxing effects of the event.
- Watering eyes at the conclusion of an event, probably because it ended!
- Numbness in the fingers, reported by some.
- Seeing visions and funny symbols, especially when eyes are closed.
- Sadness or irritability when the event ends, with people claiming they don’t want it to end.
- Temporary loss of motor functions or bodily control, such as not being able to form a tight fist.
Type A and Type B ASMR
One can also further divide ASMR into two groups.
Type A: consciously controlled trigger of an ASMR event.
Type B: uncontrolled or externally triggered ASMR event.
Type A would refer to an activity such as meditation, where the person is alone with no distractions. They can make the sensation occur at will, just using the mind. They don't rely on external stimuli.
Type B refers to watching TV, listening to the radio, hearing someone speak, or being physically touched. This is what is meant by external factors that trigger ASMR. It involves the senses. Type B ASMR experiencers may rely solely on one sense during an ASMR event, or may use two or more at the same time, such as sight and hearing.
Some claim that Type B is the more common one as it is perhaps easier to trigger and may result in longer, more sustained events. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that external triggers are much more likely to enhance an already existing event. Even climate effects such as the cold could add to the overall experience. Stroking the skin on one’s arm while an ASMR event takes place also acts as an enhancer.
With these Type B triggers, sometimes repetition of the trigger or playing a video or sound clip on a loop can increase the sensation drastically. It’s not unusual, however, to become immune to a trigger after a while. It’s like you build up a tolerance level or become bored with that sample, and this is when people start to seek out more and more things that will create the sensation, often searching for the ultimate in triggers. Sometimes one can not only build up a tolerance to certain triggers, but might also stop experiencing ASMR altogether, temporarily. It usually resumes after taking a break for a while.
Type B experiencers might be able to experience Type A ASMR, and can train themselves to do so. They can think back to past events which triggered ASMR, or imagine someone talking, perhaps a reliable inducer (one who is able to trigger this response.)
Potential Uses for ASMR
- ASMR is used by people who suffer from insomnia to help induce sleep.
- It is used by people suffering from stress as stress relief or a mood enhancer.
- It can potentially be used as a form of alternative medicine, such as a natural painkiller. People who experience ASMR have noted that inducing ASMR helps them get rid of headaches and migraines, for example.
Theories and Public Reaction
Some mistake this sensation for heebie-jeebies, chills, goose bumps, or pins and needles. But these are all usually associated with generally negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, pain, or just being cold.
ASMR is generally experienced as a positive feeling, which usually results in bouts of euphoria, with varying degrees of intensity, often described as being similar to a tide sweeping in. It can fade in and out, or can be a more constant feeling all over the cranium, spreading to various other body parts on occasion. Naturally, seeing as this sensation seems to originate at the head, it’s quite something if it can reach all the way down to the legs or even the feet! That would constitute a major event, especially if it’s a whole body sensation.
Not everyone reportedly experiences these tingling sensations in the head and neck region however. Others claim that they experience negative feelings or sensations, even pain from being exposed to certain triggers, and it has been suggested that an underlying condition such as misophonia might be involved.
It is a topic that not everyone understands—with people who experience it often feeling alone, isolated, and misunderstood. Perhaps they are even regarded as a freak or an outcast, particularly if the subject is brought up with someone who doesn’t experience it. I’ve only brought up the subject with a few people in my entire life, and was met with either confusion or indifference most of the time. And I’ve read many other stories where people reacted in much the same matter, even recommending the poor fellow’s committal in one instance!
Generally speaking, it seems to be something linked to people with certain personality traits. Usually people who experience it are gentle in nature, perhaps spiritual, deep, introspective, and maybe even introverted. Creative or predominantly right-brained individuals might also be more prone to experiencing it. This is because quite a few people who tend to exhibit the symptoms happen to be artists or musicians. This might just be coincidence though. I personally am half-half; half logical (left brained) and half creative (right brained). Dr Ane Axeford, a clinical hypnotist, suggests that people who experience ASMR are HSPs (Highly Sensitive Person), or are more likely to be HSPs. She claims that the typical personality of experiencers is indicative of this. She goes further to say that we are more susceptible to hypnotism. Indeed, there has been some speculation that the psychological effects experienced are akin to a light form of hypnosis.
It seems to occur less and less as one gets older, with people reporting more intense and/or frequent ASMR events in their youth. There’s been much debate over whether ASMR is hereditary. Some are able to support this theory, claiming that several members of their immediate families experience it. It has even been suggested that ASMR is a reward system passed down through generations.
Some speculate that it is an evolutionary grooming response, and this is partly supported by the fact that watching makeup videos and hair-brushing videos on YouTube is popular among many experiencers. That and going to the salon and having one’s hair cut and washed, or even just someone playing with your hair, can trigger this response.
It is not known whether there have been scientific or medical studies on this subject, or if there are proper terms for it. I’ve even spoken to doctors, in real life and online, and even though some of them might actively experience this, I’ve had word from one that there may well not be much official research put into this—mainly because it’s hard to explain, and not a pathology, like a disease such as cancer. This seems to mean that it’s not as important.
There have been several theories and opinions, such as a physical consciousness of a serotonin release in the brain, or even endorphins. What this means is that you can actually feel the chemicals being released. Serotonin is thought to possibly be the precursor to ASMR, and responsible for the feelings of well-being. Torsten Wiedemann, ethnobotanist and member of the ASMR research team who first put forward the serotonin hypothesis, also supports the belief that ASMR is non-sexual, seeing as he thinks dopamine, which is a chemical released in the brain brought on by feelings of arousal among other things, is the anti-ASMR chemical, stopping ASMR from taking place.
Others include narcolepsy, a tendency to fall asleep in relaxed situations. Some people who experience tingles have been diagnosed with this condition. Whether this is coincidence or not is unknown. It seems as though a lot of people, particularly those who suffer from insomnia, use trigger videos to help them sleep. Some even think that ASMR is linked to insomnia.
ESP (extrasensory perception) is a theory as well as the controversial theory of indigo children— evolved or evolving human beings.
Another theory suggests that it is a synaesthesia, where multiples senses or parts of the body are stimulated, such as the eyes (sight), skin and scalp (touch), ears (hearing), and less commonly smell and taste. Others deny this, however, and say that synaesthesia has more to do with colours. However, there are different types of synaesthesia and at least one of them reportedly involves tingling sensations being experienced.
There’s a highly controversial theory that suggests that ASMR is in fact frisson or cold chills. Some research has been conducted on frisson, and after reading through a study on this, I came across something that the two do seem to have in common—the fact that they both invoke some sort of physical and psychological effects. Frisson does result in flexing of the hair follicles, which is possibly the tingling sensation experienced in both ASMR and frisson. However, that is where the similarities end. ASMR and frisson responses are generated by different triggers and have different physical and psychological effects. ASMR results in a relaxed state of mind, whereas frisson often makes a person excited.
And then another theory suggests that it’s drug-induced, or that drugs might increase the overall intensity of it. Some drugs like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which are often prescribed for depression, are thought to lead to ASMR immunity, with alcohol possibly having the same effect.
Naysayers and unsupportive types have suggested it’s something negative and more serious, like an issue with the brain such as a tumour or cancer, or they just label it as a fetish of sorts. But the most hurtful is suggesting that it doesn't even exist.
"A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?"— Albert Einstein
Do you get this head tingling sensation?
© 2010 Anti-Valentine