What Is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 18, 2021
2 min read

Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, causes a tingling sensation in your head and neck after triggers like repetitive movements or whispering. Most people describe the tingling as very relaxing, even pleasurable.

Scientists have only recently started studying ASMR, and there’s a lot they don't know about it. Experts are still looking at whether ASMR might be a tool to help people with things like depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

People who write about the sensation of ASMR sometimes call it a “brain orgasm.”

The tingling it causes isn't the same as that shivery feeling (also known as “chills”) you get from an emotional experience like hearing a beautiful piece of music. Experts say the difference between the two is where you have it.

“Chills” tend to happen all over, and at once. The tingling of ASMR starts in the head and neck, and it can sometimes move to your arms and legs. It may also happen in waves or pulses.

The pleasure sensation that happens with ASMR can crop up after certain:

  • Sounds
  • Sights
  • Smells
  • Textures

Everyone’s triggers are different. They tend to be quiet and repetitive movements and sounds. Common examples include:

  • Hair brushing
  • Folding towels
  • Flipping magazine pages
  • Whispering
  • Rain
  • Light tapping
  • Crisp sounds, like crunchy leaves or biting into an apple
  • Slow movements

You can also get it when someone is paying close attention to you, such as during a medical exam or a haircut.

The relaxed feeling you get from ASMR may help you sleep. In one study, scientists found that most people liked to watch videos of the noises and sounds that trigger their ASMR before they go to bed.

The same study looked at how ASMR changes your mood. Most people said triggering their ASMR helped them with symptoms of depression.

It’s only a temporary fix, though. The effect fades a few hours after the tingling sensation does.

Scientists don't know why ASMR happens or if it can treat things like stress, insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders, or depression. In part, it’s because everyone who has ASMR feels the sensation differently.

Scientists hope to do more studies of the brain during ASMR to get more clues about it.