Am I High? (aka How I Came to Discover the Mystical Sensation “ASMR”)

Earlier this week, I was driving home from work, letting my mind wander and reflect.  You know the feeling: you’re not really entirely present (scary while driving), but your mind is working.

As I got on the 405, Pandora started playing It’s Been Awhile by Staind. It’s something I’ve heard before (don’t make fun of me) — but it’s been years.

Suddenly, something odd happened.

At minute 2:18 (I’ve inserted the video below for reference), I felt an angelic injection of something golden in the back of my head.

It started like a tingle — and then exploded in warmth that spread to my ears (maybe a little more on the right side), then down to my shoulders, back, and torso. It evaporated somewhere around my toes, and was gone in 2-3 seconds.  What on earth?

Then again, at 2:28 another warm wave swept through me. Each time the sensation was incredibly pleasurable.

Here’s what I was listening to:

As I drove, I started to wonder …

I need to figure this out.  What is this feeling?!

It dawned on me: “Dave, you’ve felt this before.  This isn’t the first time.”  Come to think of it, I feel it often — but I’ve never stopped to think about:

  1. What is this sensation? It feels incredible (like, if someone could bottle and sell this stuff, they’d be a gazzilionaire)
  2. Is this something everyone feels? I’ve always assumed the answer is “yes,” but as I’ve come to find, my assumptions are usually wrong

I decided to do an informal poll, and so later that evening I posted on Facebook; you can see the lively discussion here.  At first it seems people didn’t take me seriously, but over the course of the evening, things got interesting.

I found that in fact this phenomenon has a name: Autonomous sensory meridian response (or ASMR for short).

I was pretty shocked to find that others had similar questions about this feeling. (And what the heck is with that name?)

Not only does it have a name, but there is also an entire subculture of people who try to reproduce this sensation. It seems people get ASMR hearing others whisper, listening to pages turn, and like me, listening to music.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

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, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. The nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial.

After poking around Google for a bit, here’s what I’ve found triggers ASMR in other people:

  • Soft voices, speaking in a soothing way (there are a lot of odd YouTube videos where people look directly at you and whisper the whole time)
  • People whispering close to a microphone (or your ear)
  • Mouth noises, like smacking lips
  • Personal attention directed at just you — like getting a haircut, or going to the doctor
  • Watching people highly skilled in a field, like those who do work with their hands (e.g., artists)
  • Tapping noises (even the clicking of a keyboard)

This got me thinking more seriously about my triggers.  Here’s what I’ve noticed about my ASMR triggers:

  • Music is my primary trigger.  I notice the feelings seem intensified when watching the performer (I’ve given some examples below), especially in a dark room with headphones.(Come to think of it, I wonder if my life-long love of music has been entirely about repeating this sensation.  Is that why I love music so much?  Perhaps I’ve been looking for my ASMR hit and not realizing it.)
  • Watching Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant also gets me.  Does that sound odd or what!  I can recall watching both during high intensity moments, and after a mind-blowing play or last-second game winning shot, feeling the sensation.  I can occasionally get the same feeling by watching video replays.

After coming to these realizations, I started to wonder …

Can I trigger ASMR on-demand?

To begin my experiment, I thought about specific pieces of music which I recall having triggered me in the past.

One that stands out is Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto. It holds a special place in my heart, and feels like a part of my soul.  Here’s 26-year old Olga Kern, playing the concerto during the Van Cliburn competition:

I get the feeling at 11:16, 11:29, 11:58, 12:03, 12:12, 12:38, 12:56, 13:02 (this one is larger than the others), and 13:12.

And the third movement of the same piece is equally euphoric. Here’s a sample, this time played by Lang-Lang. Please excuse his theatrics (I don’t mind them, but some do), and instead see if you feel something:

Here’s where I feel touched by an angel: 1:06, 1:17, 1:27, 1:34, 1;40, 1:48, 3:04, 3:12, 3:18, 3:20, 3:24, 3:29.

Around 3:58, the sensation is quasi spiritual; what floats through my mind is a picture of entering into eternity and meeting my Creator.  I can recall having these thoughts (and feeling ASMR “hits”) during this part of the piece for a long time.  The exact feeling is difficult to put into words.

Want to know more about ASMR?

A good place to start seems to be this Wikipedia entry, which has some interesting information. If you do YouTube searches for “ASMR”, you’ll find all sorts of weird stuff people have created that supposedly induces the feeling.

I’m very, very curious: How many of you feel ASMR? Please answer the poll below and see how you compare to others. In the comments, share your thoughts about this sensation, and if you get it, what triggers ASMR for you?

About David Rosendahl
Husband, father of 4, co-founder of MindFireInc, two-time Inc500 software company. I love building things and helping you generate more leads and grow sales predictably.

One Response to Am I High? (aka How I Came to Discover the Mystical Sensation “ASMR”)

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