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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Have You Tried ASMR?

Author: Anne-Marie Di Passa

A couple of months ago, I came across an intriguing “ASMR” video on my Instagram feed. The lady on my screen started rubbing her hands together with the intent of making noise, and then proceeded to “pluck” the negative energy out of me. Though I am not a believer that someone can remove my negative energy through a screen (or in-person for that matter), it was oddly relaxing! I felt a nice tingling sensation across my head, which I have only ever experienced when I am extremely relaxed. With the stresses of being a grad student, I became fascinated with the idea of being able to self-induce a feeling of relaxation. After seeing this ASMR video, I became instantly hooked and started searching for more videos on YouTube and Instagram.

“ASMR” stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is a unique sensory-perceptual experience in response to audio-visual stimuli (i.e., “triggers”) leading to pleasurable sensations across the scalp and/or head — known as “brain tingles”— and relaxation. ASMR is fairly uncommon, in that only 20% of people are estimated to have the ASMR ability - that is, the ability to experience brain tingles, pleasurable sensations or relaxation, in response to ASMR triggers (Poerio et al., 2023). Audio triggers can involve  w h i s p e r i n g or T-T-T-TAPping, brrrrrussssssshing, or even mouth noises. Visual triggers include moving lights or roleplay activities (i.e., getting your makeup done, an eye exam, or a “deep brain massage,” etc.).

Not only can ASMR be a relaxing and enjoyable activity, but it can also lead to health benefits. Studies have shown lowered heart rate and increased pleasant affect in those who experience ASMR (Poerio et al., 2018). Some individuals use ASMR to help them fall asleep and to reduce symptoms of anxiety (Woods & Turner-Cobb, 2023). Moreover, several people report it to be an effective mood booster (Smejka & Wiggs, 2022).

Since we are neuroscientists, you must be curious to know what are the neural correlates of the ASMR? Those who experience ASMR show heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens — involved in reward processing — as well as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and inferior frontal gyrus — which are implicated in emotional arousal (Lochte et al., 2018). Though the research on the neural mechanisms of ASMR is in its infancy, we see that ASMR is a very real physiological phenomenon with neural markers, and that the tingling sensations are not just in our heads!

If you would like to give ASMR a go, and to verify if you’re one of the chosen 20%, check out an ASMR YouTube video. There’s a huge selection of triggers to choose from. Why not give it a try? 

Here are some to get you started!

The image used in this article was drawn by Anne-Marie!


Lochte, B. C., Guillory, S. A., Richard, C. A. H., & Kelley, W. M. (2018). An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). BioImpacts: BI, 8(4), 295–304.

Poerio, G. L., Blakey, E., Hostler, T. J., & Veltri, T. (2018). More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. PloS One, 13(6), e0196645.

Poerio, G. L., Osman, F., Todd, J., Kaur, J., Jones, L., & Cardini, F. (2023). From the Outside in: ASMR Is Characterised by Reduced Interoceptive Accuracy but Higher Sensation Seeking. Multisensory Research, 1–21.

Smejka, T., & Wiggs, L. (2022). The effects of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos on arousal and mood in adults with and without depression and insomnia. Journal of Affective Disorders, 301, 60–67.

Woods, N., & Turner-Cobb, J. M. (2023). “It’s like Taking a Sleeping Pill”: Student Experience of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) to Promote Health and Mental Wellbeing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(3), 2337.