A neuroscientist explains the "brain orgasm" response of ASMR videos

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/24/a-neuroscientist-explains-the.html


Manchester University does not exist. There are at least two universities in Manchester: University of Manchester, and Manchester Metropolitan University. This study is from the later.


Off topic - The brand-new poster above needs to be awarded this right away! :wink:

On topic - I beg to differ with the psychologist/neuroscientist in the video. MRIs and CAT scans give me the tingles every time. Earliest childhood triggers I can recall are having my hair brushed and the Brannock Device.


I had forgotten about the Brannock Device; is it still used by better shoe stores? I certainly haven’t had my feet measured in a good long while.

As a child, I used to find that a game of “pretend to break an egg over your head, and the egg dribbles down your hair” was a surefire head-tingle maker.


I am sensitive to ASMR (but most ASMRtists videos leave me cold-to-repulsed).

Nick Davis traces the discovery/origin of ASMR to a community of artists “who were using the same language to describe the same phenomenon”. But that was only the 2nd stage.

The 1st stage was where people on forums would share some unrelated video (personal example) saying “this makes me feel really good/relaxed”. And others would go “no way! Me too! I thought I was the only one!” And so people discovered this was a phenomenon that affected a small fraction of the population (2%? 5%? I forget).

Then someone named it ASMR.

And then the ASMRtist’s videos emerged, now that there was an identified audience.

Google Trends is a great source to trace the popularity, especially with such a new term. Basically, “ASMR” wasn’t a thing before 2011:
(note that the Holophonic Barbershop video I linked was from 2007)


You know that unsettled, eerie feeling some people ascribe to something called The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, that’s what most of these ASMRers do for me. Creepy whispering and gross mouth sounds. Eugh.


Electric trimmers on my neck do it. But those youtube videos of whispers and clicky/tapping on a microphone…no, those are literally rage inducing for me. It’s like listening to people chewing food.


I’m one of those folks with pretty pronounced misophonia. I’ve never made it through one of these things, but just the first few seconds made it clear I would have needed sedation and or euthanasia by the end of it.


I have both ASMR with some triggers, clicky voices, for one (the noisy eating is just disgusting though), and some misophonia; plastic food wrap is horrible, and I sometimes had trouble as a child unwrapping my lunch sandwiches. It was actually painful.

I do wonder if ASMR and misophonia are two sides of the same coin, since many of the same triggers stimulate one or the other in different people.


On one hand I’m glad that ASMR has become a thing because now I have a name for the feeling, and know I’m not the only one. Over the years I’ve tried to explain it to people and no one seemed to know what I was talking about. The times that I described it as “orgasmic” got me some weird looks.

On the other hand, now there are all these squicky videos that do nothing but disgust me.

I much prefer my triggers, which are favorite songs, particularly ones that build to a climax. For instance, Chicago’s Feelin’ Stronger Every Day is a pretty consistent trigger, particularly when the horns start kicking ass at about 2:50.

I would agree with the neuroscientist that a sense of comfort and well-being is necessary for the sensation to happen. But in my case, all of the rest of the trigger components he describes are way off.


I, too, loved the Brannock device and shoe stores with old-school fittings when I was a child, and I always find MRI’s tingly and calming.


At some point in my life I became aware that the same sounds, such as mouth sounds, could sometimes make me feel that tingly euphoria and at other times induce a feeling almost of rage, and I find I am sometimes able to change the negative feeling to a positive, tingly one by making a mental or emotional adjustment, by sort of thinking about our common materialness, actively focusing on a feeling of calm acceptance of my physicality and that of the other person.


The Youtube comments seem to agree that this video doesn’t really explain much at all. His explanations don’t even seem to be consistent – like, how is slime manipulation supposed to be related to intimacy…?

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I hate them too.

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How about Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days”, or “Echoes” both from “Meddle”…

It even had an ear on the album cover.

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I was really into Pink Floyd in high school, “The Wall” came out my freshman year. I had several of their albums, but “Meddle” wasn’t one of them. And knowing a song well enough to anticipate a climax or a part I particularly enjoy seems to be a key component. Songs I know well, like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” or “The Great Gig in the Sky”, are definite triggers.

However, even though I didn’t know it well, there are parts of “Echoes” that tickled the response. The ascending runs on the guitar partially triggered it.

Thanks for the suggestions!

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“One of these days” begins really quietly, with just the wind. It has just the cumulative effect you describe. Go on, try it on headphones, I double dead-dog dare ya.

Dang. Now the intro to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ is doing it for me too.

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Not unlike different reactions to “adrenaline rushes”; some people feel invigorated and excited, but some people feel anxious, and yet many (all?) of the same chemicals are involved.

So, if someone feels anxious, they may be able to trick and train themselves into thinking that they are actually feeling excited. Neurology is a strange thing, so it might be possible.


I find the sounds of food being eaten almost intolerable, the opposite of asmr. These videos don’t do much for me, either. But it is kinda interesting to think about whether these different responses are ‘just’ psychological or some deeper wiring differences.

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