When I was a kid I observed a lot of things about myself that I didn’t think anyone else could possibly understand. Some were kind of heartbreaking, some a little frightening, and some I decided meant I was crazy but I enjoyed too much to look deeply into.
One such was the “brain tickle.” I noticed, from a very early age, that some sounds made the inside of my head feel all tingly and weird. Most of the time it came from certain people’s voices – soft-spoken people, usually, almost instantly caused that tickling sensation (not the same as the low-down tickle, which I didn’t really figure out until I was much older).
Sometimes I’d mention it to other people just to see if maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the only one, but most of the time I’d get stared at like I was completely banana balls. Once in a while, though, someone would say, “OMG! I get that too – what the hell is that?”
Only a few years ago I discovered that not only is it a more widespread phenomenon than I thought, there’s actually a name for it: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. The term is mostly just a “we have to call this something, anyone got any ideas?” (which Wikipedia considers a neologism) which breaks down to “people get brain tickles and we have no idea why and since nobody’s going to bankroll research on brain tickles, YouTube, take it away!”
It turns out there is a thriving and extensive world of ASMR videos on YouTube. They center around the most common triggers: soft voices/whispers, sounds like paper crinkling, tapping on plastic, or even Velcro; and role-playing with a personal attention theme like being at a spa, having your head massaged, or getting a haircut. A lot of people who do these videos also focus on treating insomnia or using hypnosis through binaural recording (which utilizes multiple microphones to simulate a 3D environment) to enhance self-awareness. Some are utterly silly (like alien abduction role playing), some are healing (reiki/energy healing sessions, affirmations), and some don’t have a theme at all but are just triggering sounds.
The best mainstream example I can think of: Bob Ross. If listening to Bob Ross paint (both the speaking and the brush strokes) makes your brain feel funny, you are probably experiencing ASMR.
The interesting thing about ASMR is it’s kind of like asparagus pee; if you’re someone who has the ability to detect it, it can be an intense experience; if you aren’t, you’ll think it’s the goofiest thing you’ve ever heard of. There’s no clinical evidence whatsoever that ASMR exists or is useful for anything; its effects are purely anecdotal.
Here are some of my favorite videos – my brain apparently loves women with accents. In fact hearing a woman speak quietly with any variety of Indian British accent melts me into a puddle of happy. (And not in the same way that, say, Tom Hiddleston reading poetry melts me into a puddle of happy – again, that’s the low-down tickle, not the brain tickle. (I mean come on, Sonnet 18? Just kill me now.)
Bob Ross Paints Happy Little Mountains
A Recipe for Aloo Dum Curry
Twilight Forest Meditation
Whispered Affirmations to Shift Your Beliefs
Arabic Spice Shop Roleplay