Autonomous sensory meridian response - self-diagnosed neurological condition/superpower that makes you really enjoy whispering

In Tribes, this week's This American Life podcast, a woman with "Autonomous sensory meridian response" describes her curious neurological condition. When she hears boring, whispering voices, she experiences pleasurable, relaxing "brain shivers" that are so nice, she finds herself watching the Home Shopping Network for hours (and hours!) at a time. There's a whole YouTube subculture of ASMR videos in which (mostly) women whisper quietly as they narrate their jewelry condition, or role-play giving you a shave.

There's not much science on ASMR (yet), but a Sheffield university prof doesn't discount the possibility that it is real.

ASMR subculture feels like something out of a very good recent William Gibson novel, and it's apparently real.


  1. Holy crap!!!  You mean there are people who would like my natural speaking voice? I’ve spent most of my life artificially lowering and projecting my voice so as not to sound this way because, you know, women have to have loud low speaking voices or else.

  2. It is very real. Only last year did I learn that what I felt was called ASMR. For myself, the whispering videos are not a trigger. However watching people examine an item, paging through a book or straightening a shelf becomes a pleasurable sensation. 

      1. I am as Type B as it gets and I would too. This is a physical sensory thing, and I don’t think it has anything to do with personality type.

      1. Bob Ross was definitely the first trigger of this sensation for me. Which is why I find it hilarious when people assume it’s some kind of sexual kink.

    1. Huh, I was just going to say that I have a very strong sympathetic nervous response to watching people write on chalkboards or use laser pointers on walls. I used to get a really strong tingling response that left me feeling warm and foggy whenever a teacher would lightly stroke something on those, uh, light boxes? When they were writing on the acetate and it would project onto the whiteboard? Yeah. It was a private thrill for me. 

      That said, I think I also experience something called “misphonia.” As far as I can tell, it’s not well understood, but I’ve always said, as an illustrator, that being deaf might be inconvenient, but I wouldn’t mind. A lot of noises will just get under my skin and set my teeth on edge. The sound of chewing, for instance, or heavy breathing. Whispering, to me, is actually like petting a cat the wrong way. I find it deeply irritating. 

      I’m also more sensitive to light than most people, so basically I’m a cave dweller. 

  3. I have such acute discomfort watching this video, I almost wonder if I have the opposite condition

  4. Is there a term for it if the whispering videos make you exceedingly uncomfortable and viscerally creeped out? Even people whispering in person makes me anxious and I want it to stop.

    1. I have a mild form of the intended reaction when viewing the videos but, on the balance, I still find the videos too creepy to be worth viewing.

      I’ve had a similar reaction, but much more strongly, a few other times in my life. I can’t think of any common triggers, but I can compare the feeling to the bizarrely numb relaxation one gets when going to sleep while slightly damp and cold, combined with a sort of excited, almost fearful, goosebump-y stimulation.

  5. When I watch an ASMR video I have the exact opposite response.  I can’t stand the popping/click noises that the microphone picks up when someone whispers or tapping on things, or crinkling shit…..if I make it 30 seconds I’m just seething.

    1. Jesus H. Christ, me too. And it doesn’t help that the first videos I encountered were described by people who seemingly didn’t know that it has different triggers. I click on a video billed as something truly amazing to see what’s going on there, and immediately I’m like, “Why the fuck are we watching somebody push pencils around????”

  6. for the longest time i have tried to explain these brain/body/spinal shivers that begin at the base of my neck and move through my extremities. For me, I do it consciously to relax (and feel good), they happen when I close my eyes and do a combination of muscle movements that I am still trying to become aware of. Its as if energy builds and then releases through my nervous system. I have tried to explain this to so many people over time, and no one has seemed to have any idea what I am talking about. I’ve wanted to have a scan done while doing these, to see if it is mental or sensory (or both). Does anyone else have any information on this?

      1. i fully believe in so much that we can’t possibly know. Is it related to chakra? Life force? Aura? I don’t know. But one other odd tidbit of information is that if i feel the ‘energy’ that moves through my body is sometimes blocked in an area (or doesn’t pass through), I know that something feels ‘off’ and it makes me aware of that. Its so nice to know that others feel these sensations too, for the longest time I stopped asking people, because everyone would just look at me weird when I explained it!

        1. discuss those areas with a massage therapist or acupuncturist, I’m willing to bet they’ll find muscular tension or something they can work on to release it and help you relax

        2.  If you want the tai chi take on what you’re describing, it is classic blockage of chi at certain points along your meridians. It’s very common, and while acupuncture would work, so would tai chi and qi gong. What is less common is that you can already tell where the blockage is. So you’re already half way home.

    1. When I first read about ASMR, it was because I was trying to find someone else who has this experience.  It is not a result of outside stimuli, but breath control, focus and as you say, certain muscle movements.

      There are some similarities to what they describe in the ASMR community, but you’re the only person who has described precisely what I experience.

      On this page: they are apparently interested in researching it, and  it may be that you’ve described what they are classing as “type-b”.  It’s not a lot of information, but there you go.

  7. Wow, some people do have the weirdest kinks. Seems pretty harmless as far as kinks go. … I wonder if it’s because it reminds them of how they were spoken to as babies? Paging Dr Freud

      1. Under Rule 34 it is for *somebody*, but that doesn’t apply to it as a cultural phenomenon. As a general rule, it’s definitely not sexual.

      2. Not every pleasurable sensation is sexual, people!
        It’s like the goosebumps I (and others) get from listening to certain pieces of music – albeit a different response to a different trigger. Neither of them are sexual responses in the slightest.

  8. After reading the wiki, this is EXACTLY how it feels: Other phrases to describe the sensation refer to it as a “brain orgasm”, “brain massage”, “head tingle”, “brain tingles”, “head orgasm”, “spine tingle”, and “braingasm”. If anyone wants to research this, consider me a willing subject.

  9. Whispering videos don’t do it for me; it’s a pity the majority of ASMR videos focus on that.  Watching cats get brushed however…  *shudders*  It’s a lovely, lovely sensation.

  10. Yeah, I get this, and it’s totally real; I get it when people are kind to me. 

    But people who get it from listening to whispers? Totally crazy. :)

  11. I am an ASMR enthusiast. There’s a very active subreddit for it; the community isn’t limited to youtube. I don’t really like the roleplays so much, but I especially love watching Bob Ross, especially the parts of the show where the audio is just brush strokes.

    My all time favorite, though, is the woolite packet in this video. It produces a very strong tingly sensation very close to those wire head massagers.

    I watch this before bed every night almost without exception.

    1. The soft audible clicking/brushing triggers, here and in whispering, is what strikes me as unusual. I have experienced the sensation, but not related to these sounds or other triggers mentioned.

      1. Yeah, it’s very confusing because it has such different triggers for different people. I suspect it’s basically the same sensation for everyone, but it’s very hard to understand because the triggers are so different.

  12. Thank you boingboing for again exposing me to something that I did not know was of great interest to me.

    I can’t say it gives me the shivers, as described, but the videos totally calm and soothe me. 

    To help me combat insomnia, I listen to binaural beats and guided meditation, but I get caught up listening to the words.  This is the white noise of a soothing voice to compliment the binaural beats I’ve been looking for. 

    This one is going to bed with me for awhile.  I am a fan.

    1. Now just so I’m sure, is that or ggr.gliese581g.phish or possibly ggr.gliese581g.ghoti?

      I like the future she imagines that requires her to ask permission separately after conducting the background checks to obtain (and use) medical and credit data. Something wonderful must happen in the next 100 years.

  13. I have been trying to explain this for three decades (only with extreme caution and to close friends). No one has ever understood what the hell I was talking about. Whispers aren’t a trigger, but if someone examines something that I’ve created (a piece of writing, art, etc.) I feel incredibly relaxed and euphoric. 

  14. Echoing the others on this thread; I have this, it’s very real (and totally positive IMO) but the whispering thing doesn’t do it for me.

    The “ZOMG I didn’t know this had a name but it happens to me too!” response is fun to see, and comes up in droves whenever I see the subject broached in a new site or community.

    I don’t like the ASMR moniker especially, but I do like that it was (IIRC) invented from scratch by the community and more or less adopted by acclaim. I would have found it funnier if we’d stuck with “headgasms”.

    Since others have chimed in, this is my favorite trigger:

    Clicking machinery and people with distinctive voices do it for me, so the video above is a great combo. But Bob Ross is pretty great too, and sometimes How It’s Made (depends on the narrator, as they have different voices for different countries).

    1. “crisp, tangible. deferential…” I bet that just sends you right off, doesn’t it? He does it a couple other times in the video, once describing the language of letterpress, ‘cases, pagecord, furniture…”

  15. So here’s my theory, since I’ve seen a bunch of these on YouTube while looking for massage tutorials and the like.

    It sounds like a fancy word for what we used to call “goosebumps.” (Ermahgerd, gersberms.) Most people get it from some type of physical sensation, or it can extend to  other sensory cues that remind them of it. For example, the sensation of a barber’s hair clippers on the back of your neck, or seeing it done to somebody else. At least I guess that’s what it’s about because there are “ASMR” tags on videos of scalp massage and such things, even when it doesn’t have to do with whispering.

    What’s curious about the “ASMR” phenomenon online is that there are a bunch of, apparently lucky bastards, who get it from some odd thing like watching a person sort envelopes. Why they might get it that way instead of the usual way beats me. All I know is that it’s puzzling and probably neurological.

    1. It’s not goosebumps; I get that from listening to certain pieces of music, and have for years before I got ASMR (although unfortunately I don’t get it too often). It’s a distinctly different sensation. Reddit currently uses ‘frisson’ to differentiate it from asmr.

  16. I’ve always just assumed I liked high quality, close-miked audio.

    It’s pleasurable, but I couldn’t say “headgasm”. Although the cheap mike doesn’t help…

    Maybe I’m a borderline case.

  17. I’ve had this condition (whatever you want to call it) for as long as I can remember.  My trigger seems to be close conversation in a quiet setting, normally with someone explaining something.  This normally happens with friends, but sometimes with coworkers and even strangers.  It as described, with a distinct tingling at the base of the neck which gradually spreads upward and lasts anywhere from seconds to maybe a minute or more.  I haven’t really tried to seek it out but it is a very distinct and I guess pleasurable experience.  It’s odd that this kind of thing seems to happen a pretty large subset of the population but not much research has been done on it.  

    1. I’ve had exactly the same thing since childhood. It happens when I realise that I’ve bonded with someone (both male and female), at school, work and socially. It’s a very pleasurable feeling. I’m glad I’m not alone in this!

    2. I have these feelings during the same situations as Yan Min.  Glad to see that they have a name (though a rather clinical one) and that this happens to other people.  As the internet grows larger and connected more subgroups with experiences and characteristics that are rare among the general population form enough critical mass to have a discussion about them.  It let’s us all learn more every day.  Go Internet!

      This comment was better written on my first try, thanks again for (not)remembering me Discus.

  18. There are 7 billion of us, communicating with ever increasing detail and bandwidth. Eventually, some sort of communal emergent property will erupt and a small percentage of us will just squirt out into space because they all found each other online…

    1. Exactly! Only an incredible structure like the Internet enables such massive groups to archive and watch videos of people eating Oreos slowly, scratching paper, washing dishes, tapping wood surfaces, etc. for hours on end.

      We are truly living in the future :)

  19. Interesting!

    I get that sensation from smelling second-hand tobacco smoke indoors (cigarette or pipe),
    from watching someone search for some information in a book ( or sometimes even on google ),
    from having my eyes (for example) examined by a doctor,from watching certain people draw or write, from watching someone work, if it’s some kind of delicate artisanal manual work.
    and of course from having my hair cut or played with in some way.The wispering also helps, as a bonus.Maybe cats get it too, considering how they love to settle next to me when I’m typing at the computer…

  20. The thing has a name!  The first time I remember that sensation was as a boy, with some of the puppets in Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.

    Then years later and before that other thing had a name – Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, there I was late at night, searching for the Victoria Jackson Cosmetics infomercial with Ali McGraw and the mom from Family Ties.  There was no need to watch it, just hear these three women softly discussing makeup (“it applies very sheer, very smooth and silky…”), and it did help me relax a notch or two, every single time.

    1. Nowadays, there’s two sounds that I currently love intensely and help me feel calm and contented every single time I hear them.

      1. The basso profundo rumble of a ship’s foghorn from a medium distance on out.
      2. The sound of a cat bathing itself, which comes with the bonus of a soothing, repetitive movement when we’re both on the bed;  this just puts a quiet, goofy, sleepy grin on my face.

  21. This is definitely a real / actual physical response to certain stimuli. I’ve experienced it since childhood when I realise I’ve bonded with someone (both males and females in a friendly, non-sexual way). I get this shiver across my head, and it’s certainly a type of ‘orgasmic’ response. I get lesser but similar feelings when I get my hair washed and in eye exams etc, but it has to be with a female in those kind of situations. I’ve never considered that other people might have these feelings, so it was quite a surprise to see this article on Boing-Boing today. I’ve never watched the ASMR videos on Youtube before, but I did enjoy the whispering role play ones. It definitely triggered tingle responses in my head and hands, and I could happily listen to them all day. I feel relaxed and drowsy now.

  22. The other stimuli that has always aroused this feeling in me is being in a car in the rain. I get shivers of pleasure from that.

  23. I just heard about this for the first time a few days ago. I was in a chatroom for fans of a particular computer game, and someone mentioned ASMR; it seemed about half the people in the room had experienced it.It’s sounding like this is a fairly common reaction, though.

    I tried listening to the video for a while, but I found it uncomfortable to listen to it. That’s also been the case with a few other ASMR videos I started listening to.

  24. I am definitely going to try this ASMR shit.  

    Murmur it with me: “As … Meer …”

    Oh yeah … I’m just a fetus in the womb at feeding time (which is all the time) ….

  25. I’ve always been aggressively skeptical of self-reported medical phenomena like this, especially on the Internet. Which is why I am glad the wikipedia article (English wikipedia, not some wikipedia dedicated to the phenomenon) made a comparison with synaesthesia. Synaesthesia also is a self-reported sensory phenomenon that a neurotypical person would not believe exists without evidence, yet evidence was eventually found. So if people can see sound, I’m willing to believe all of you are feeling something real. :-) Thankfully, one’s belief or disbelief has no bearing on reality! At some level I’m curious and jealous… based on the descriptions of the sensation, I would say I’ve never felt anything like that before in response to ANY stimulus. (Like a few others who have posted here, my response to ASMR videos is either ‘nothing’ or ‘strong desire to do physical violence’ — which I guess, ironically, is evidence I do experience a psychological reaction after all.)

    1. “Synaesthesia also is a self-reported sensory phenomenon …”

      Indeed;  how could it be otherwise?

      Likewise, if I see angels and speak with God, all you can know is that I self-report religious experiences.  

      As it happens, I don’t see angels or speak with God, but I do meditate upon the idea of synaesthesia, in hopes of experiencing it.

      So far, all I can self-report about synaesthesia is that I am entirely unable to distinguish between Red Gravity and Peppermint-Scented Gravity … they both feel like gravity, plain old gravity, nothing more.

    2. I think the confusion arises about the term “ASMR” because there’s the sensation, then there’s the multitude of random things that trigger it for different people. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the sensation is just the same thing as goosebumps — because that’s what the evidence suggests — and that basically everyone experiences it from something. However, the sound of some lady tapping her fingernails on a balloon is an example of the second category. I think a lot of these videos confuse you by describing “ASMR” as if it’s some kind of outrageous and otherworldly sensation you’ve never felt, rather than explaining that the video is some obscure trigger for [goosebumps] that affects a handful of people. Maybe they don’t even realize it.

      These are my conclusions, since I do get a tingly sensation from certain stuff, but it’s the kind of physical stuff that most people report a tingly sensation from. Long closeup videos with whispery, crinkly audio do nothing but irritate me.

  26. This video does nothing for me… but the OST from the Metroid NES game… Yep, that’s it.  Combination of nostalgia, chiptunes, and the general melodic nature of it gets my spine all tingly good :D

  27. There’s not much science on ASMR (yet), but a Sheffield university prof doesn’t discount the possibility that it is real.

    I’ve had ASMR all my life and only just recently discovered that 1) it has a name and 2) not everyone feels it. It’s very strange to hear this sort of skepticism directed at such a personal experience; it’s like hearing someone admit that your own laughter or your own tears “might well be a real thing.” Gee, thanks.

    Are there no doctors or scientists who feel ASMR? How rare could it possibly be, given the size of the subculture the internet has made possible? (GentleWhispering alone has over 20 million views.) Seems like that would be a good place to start, but I haven’t heard of anyone even attempting to answer that question.

  28. Referring to this link:[1]
    In lecture # 3 of this Buddhist meditation series by Insight meditation teacher Gil Fronsdal, he tells a story starting at about 21:00 minutes into the lecture about having a very pleasant sense of well-being as a child when he would watch the ticket-taker on a bus would tally up his tickets. He describes it as borrowing or sharing in the ticket taker’s concentration and a “feeling of well-being” that would “bubble up in him.” He doesn’t describe it particularly as a physical sensation, but the description sounds very akin to ASMR to me. This dharma talk was very interesting to me because it seems to tie the ASMR phenomenon to meditation via concentration. Makes me wonder about the connection between ASMR and the jhanas of buddhist meditation.

  29. I’m pleased to see that ASMR folk managed to work in a nurse fetish as well.  Excellent.

  30. There was this woman who, along with her workmates, attended the same YMCA group exercise class as I. After class I always went into the sauna. If I was lucky, the woman and a couple of her mates would sit in the sauna too. The woman was an incessant talker and would drone on about the most trivial work details. I felt sorry for her friends who had to, somehow, remain engaged and alert. But for me it was heaven. I’d close my eyes and let the droning hum of her words take me away. I loved that woman and was so glad we weren’t friends.

  31. Odd fetish was my first thought, which probably says more about me than about ASMR being real.
    I did notice that most of the people who are commenting on having ASMR are suspiciously new to commenting on boingboing.

    1.  I’ve had this as long as I can remember, but never thought it was a ‘thing’. No outside triggers; I can just do it. There. I did it.

      1. I think about how it might feel and I can feel it. Everyone might have this, or may possibly be able to experience it, but most of us might not have discovered our triggers yet.

  32. Awfully difficult to form an opinion re whether this is a real phenomenon without a more distinct description of what’s being claimed.

  33. Interestingly, I discovered ASMR via boingboing a couple years ago when you guys made a post about rrcherrypie, the video maker who films nealry silent setups with miniature food   … In the comments section there was some discussion about asmr and I was like “Holy crap! That’s what I get!” and proceeded to become totally immersed in the youtube asmr culture.
     A bit over a year ago, I made my own channel ( where I started filling a void I felt was present- that is- showing my weird insect collection, making steampunk-style art on camera, cleaning antique cameras, etc. I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely of both creating and watching these since that initial boingboing article (thanks guys!!!) …I have made friends and gotten to share my artwork on a level I never thought possible. I credit boingboing for all of it. You guys are the best <3

    1. I also learned about ASMR about two years ago, from a comment which included a link to a Japanese man cleaning shoes.

      I don’t get it, but I -do- enjoy watching shows about antiques, especially the part where they look the thing up and down and calmly discuss what it’s worth. I’ve also found myself staying up late at night watching these things slowly unfold. Perhaps not unlike ASMR?

      1. Similar, yes indeed. Asmr is like a concentrated version of this. Like watching that show and having a ghostly hand brushing your head and neck and pulling your eyelids down all at once. Also, I didn’t get it at first either. I mean- I sort of did, but the whispering wasn’t something I was fond of at first. It gave me the heebie jeebies, so I watched silent asmr videos. Soundsculptures has a channel devoted to stuff like: silently building a tower of legos, cleaning a laptop, etc. I also found I loved nail tapping. But this was all after that first “WOW” of rrcherrypie. Whispering came later for me, personally. And a lot of it really isn’t asmr inducing, but it is *relaxing* and often, in today’s hyperspeed stressed out type A world, that’s enough for me.
        I’d love to see that japanese guy cleaning shoes video. Sounds awesome.

  34. I was so excited a couple of years ago when I discovered that this sensation had a name and even a Facebook group. My head buzzes all over when I am asked for factual information about myself – such as: my address, my job, my age etc…  I always get it at the doctor’s when they are taking down my history. A pivotal moment was filling out the 1991 UK census. That was an hour of head-tingling nirvana. Now I take surveys on the internet whenever I have spare time…. Weird but fun.

    1.  Yes!  I was looking for a way to describe my trigger, and that’s it exactly.

  35. I love my gullible little noggin. My savannah brain doesn’t seem to grasp the artificiality of porn or masturbation, either. There’s gotta be a way to reap that lisp-shiver in music. But maybe it’s mutually exclusive with the loudness wars?

  36. I have felt this on rare occasion; it always seemed to be triggered by monotone conversation during a period of boredom. I didn’t know it had a name or that others people felt it, although I’ve suspected that birds do; when you blow against the ear of a cockatiel, it looks like they’re experiencing a similar euphoria.

    1. I’d like to know too. I’ve been pushing that theory because i’m just callin’ it like I see it, but it could be totally off.

    2. No, I don’t think it’s related to goosebumps, which is more systemic (across the body). What I’ve felt was a localized, pleasant sensation that sort of crawls down my neck. It’s more similar to “chills” with a close isolation to the head and spine, but with mild euphoria rather than fear.

  37. I kind of get what’s happening, but actively seeking out the sensation is odd to me.

    However, I did (back when I had cable) used to LOVE watching the shopping channels, not because of the softness or any tingling, but for the amazing skill of the presenters to spend 10, 15 minutes talking about something as simple as a gold chain. “The clasp can be used to take it OFF and put it ON.” “I really think this would so beautifully enhance a red sweater. The contrast would be beautiful. But, you know, it would go well with any bright color. If you bought the blue dress that was on special earlier today this would be perfect with it!” I am quite impressed with this kind of thing.

  38. So, it turns out that I’m completely triggered by the sounds of scratching or hair being cut, stuff like that.  I was amazed to find, from this post, that it’s either more about the sound than the sensation, or that the sound is such a powerful reminder that it by itself can trigger the brainsplosions.  Amazing!  

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