At some point in your life, you may have felt a shiver running from the nape of your neck and across your skull. You may have just heard the tapping of nails on plastic, the clinking of ice in a glass, the whispering of a dentist in your ear. These faint stimuli can sometimes produce a feeling some call an “autonomous sensory meridian response,” or “ASMR.” There are videos all over YouTube dedicated to replicating the sensation in viewers.
Here is an example:
ASMR is fascinating because it is difficult to describe to people who haven’t experienced it. First, imagine the most delicate pinpricks on your hands, then your neck, then wrapping around your scalp like a masseuse’s hand. You are relaxed. A feeling of being peeled gently. A wash, a wave from the crown of your head and down your torso. Has a friend put their fingers close at the top of your head, “cracked an egg,” then spread their fingers through your hair? It’s like that.
Although scientists have yet to fully study and classify this unknown yet distinct phenomenon, some have suggested using fMRI to better understand ASMR. It is possible that it is related to the activation of the brain’s pleasure system.
But artists noticed ASMR well before the recent YouTube craze surrounding it. Modernist author Virginia Woolf gave the world an apt description of ASMR in 1925 with her novel Mrs. Dalloway:
…Septimus heard her say ‘Kay Arr’ close to his ear, deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound which, concussing, broke. A marvelous discovery indeed – that the human voice in certain atmospheric conditions (for one must be scientific, above all scientific) can quicken trees into life!
In any case, check it out! At least it can be meditative solace from the day’s work.