Autonomous sensory meridian response—more commonly referred to as ASMR—is the name given to a tingling sensation on the skin (typically on the scalp, neck, or back) that some people report feeling in response to certain visual or auditory stimuli. Though ASMR is not experienced by everyone, those who do experience it often say that the sensation is triggered by soft noises—such as a whispering voice—or repetitive visuals, such as watching towels being folded. ASMR can also be triggered by physical contact, such as receiving a massage or getting a haircut. It is often described as relaxing, and, once triggered, is believed to help induce sleep or ease anxiety.
The name “ASMR” was conceived in the mid-2000s by an enthusiast who hoped that a clinical sounding name would lend legitimacy to what was, at the time, thought to be a niche experience. But though, in the years since, ASMR has become a popular internet phenomenon—inspiring millions of YouTube videos and countless devotee blogs—it has not yet been widely studied in the field of psychology. However, some researchers have recently begun to explore if the phenomenon has any scientific basis. So far, some preliminary research suggests that ASMR may indeed help manage symptoms of insomnia; other small fMRI studies suggest that those who experience ASMR may have subtle brain differences from those who don’t. Though these findings need to be replicated in larger, more rigorous studies, they have started to provide some clinical evidence for what was once purely anecdotal.