Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is something that some people, but not everyone, can experience. It is characterized by a pleasant head-tingling sensation when you hear certain sounds or are in certain environments.
ASMR is quite a personal thing, and the stimuli that are highly pleasurable to one person may not be so pleasant to someone else. However, there are a few triggers that are quite common, and if you are trying to figure out how to experience ASMR, then experimenting with some of these triggers is a good starting point. Here’s a quick look at some of the best ASMR triggers.
The most common ASMR trigger is whispering. While any form of whispering can work, binaural videos are the most likely to trigger it since they’re more realistic, and therefore, it is easier to suspend disbelief. With binaural whispering, you hear sounds in the same ear as it appears from the video that the person is whispering into, instead of the whisper coming into both ears.
Some people find that any form of whispering works, while other people find that hearing real words is too distracting and that it is better to listen to unintelligible sounds. Those who respond to the whispering of words may find that positive affirmations are helpful for boosting mood.1
Tapping is a controversial trigger. Some people find that tapping is a great ASMR trigger that helps them to fall into a meditative trance or fall asleep. Others find that tapping is very unpleasant and it may even be a trigger for misophonia.2
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You can think of misophonia as being the opposite of ASMR. People with misophonia are incredibly averse to certain sounds and experience anxiety, panic, and even extreme anger from being exposed to those sounds. If you watch some ASMR videos with tapping in them then, you will know quite quickly which camp you fall into.
Gentle scratching of hard surfaces with long, nicely manicured nails, is another popular ASMR trigger. Some people respond well to slow scratches, others prefer fast or rhythmic noises.3
Blowing is an ASMR trigger that works in two ways. First, the sound itself, especially when it is recorded in a binaural form, is pleasing and powerful. Second, it can bring about the feeling of personal, one-on-one attention. That closeness is an important trigger for a lot of people.4
In the days before ASMR was huge on the Internet, the first time many people were aware that they experienced the sensation was when they were getting their hair done. The combing, washing, and careful, methodical attention of getting your roots done at the hair salon is an ASMR trigger for a lot of people. You can’t quite replicate it with a video, but given the huge popularity of some haircut videos, it’s clear that you can get quite close with video role play.5
For some people, methodical work and intense concentration is an ASMR trigger. Some people find that watching videos of towel folding works for them.6 Indeed, Bob Ross is often jokingly referred to as the “first ASMR-ist” because watching him at work is an ASMR trigger for a lot of people. Many people load up “The Joy of Painting” to get their ASMR fix.7
The crinkling of plastic is a good ASRM trigger. Some people hate it, but a lot of people really do enjoy it. The trick here is that random noisy rustling of a packet is probably going to be irritating. There is an art to crinkling plastics to trigger ASMR and slow deliberate crinkles tend to work much better.8
Buzzing is a less common ASMR trigger, but it does help a lot of people relax and fall asleep. Gentle, repetitive buzzing that is fairly quiet works on a similar level to white noise, and it can be very relaxing indeed. The sound of hair clippers, for example, could be a good ASMR trigger.9 This may in part be due to the fact that hair clippers evoke thoughts and memories of being at the salon, but it could also be that the quiet, repetitive buzz triggers the same part of the brain as other ASMR sources.
Some people don’t experience ASMR from audible cues but can experience a similar sensation from using multi-pronged head massagers. This can be a useful trick if you want to explain ASMR to someone who is not receptive to other triggers.
Unfortunately, the head massage ASMR trick tends to get less effective over time because part of the reason that it works so well is that people are not used to being touched on their scalp in multiple places at the same time. Repetitive massage means that the nerve endings get used to it, and the feeling becomes less potent. Audible ASMR, however, tends to be something that you can trigger more reliably in the longer term.10
How To Experience ASMR
The best way to experience ASMR is to find a quiet, relaxing environment and play the sounds or watch the videos that offer the trigger for you. It helps if the environment is at a comfortable temperature. Relax in your bedroom with the curtains drawn and the heating set to the right temperature. Wear headphones to block out ambient sound. If you’re trying to use ASMR to go to sleep, then get some sleep headphones (they’re a comfortable headband instead of something that is more likely to get tangled up) and lay back and enjoy the audio.
Researchers have found that those who can experience ASMR do experience different reactions in their brain from ASMR stimuli than those who are not able to experience ASMR. By mapping the brain activity of people in an fMRI, they were able to show that ASMR experiences are similar to those of musical “frisson,” where certain kinds of music makes people’s hair stand on end. Those who are not receptive to ASMR do not show that brain activity.
This shows that even if researchers don’t fully understand the phenomenon yet, it is genuine, and there is something different in the brains of people who can experience it. If you are not sure if you can have ASMR experiences, it is well worth taking some time to explore different triggers to see if anything works for you. Even if you aren’t able to have the full experience, many of the videos are still soothing to watch and listening to positive, affirming messages could help you relax and unwind better, as well as potentially enter a meditative state. If mediation is something that interests you, there is a lot of overlap with ASMR.
If you are not able to experience ASMR, don’t worry. Not everyone is receptive to triggers and that does not mean there is anything wrong with your brain. Indeed, some researchers believe that those who can experience ASMR are the ones who are “different,” albeit very lucky.
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