Can Everyone Experience ASMR? (Tingles For All?)

The physiological response provoked by ASMR is often described as a pleasant tingling sensation that starts first at the top of the head and then travels down to the neck and spine. 

For many however, even the mere attempt to experience such a sensation can turn into a very strange, and even uncomfortable episode. ASMR, for so long thought of as an example of pseudoscience, certainly isn’t for everyone.

Studies published in PLOS One have shown that whilst ASMR is a very real phenomena that causes physiological and emotional responses, it is not a sensation that is able to be experienced by everyone. 

Being a relatively new area of interest to science a quantifiably measure of what proportion of the population have the ability to experience ‘tingles’ has been established, but what we do know is what your reaction to being exposed to ASMR triggers says about you?

Image by Yulia Lisitsa on Canva Pro

Who can experience ASMR? 

Despite ongoing research at the University of Sheffield, we still don’t quite understand why some people experience ASMR whilst others are completely unaffected by the same audio/visual triggers.

What we do know however is that those folks who are most likely to experience relaxation and positive emotional responses related to ASMR have particular personality traits, including being more neurotic and expressing openness-to-experience, a cognitive classification that identifies creative and imaginative individuals. 

Dartmouth College backed up this conclusion with MRI assessments of people who identify as able to experience ASMR. This research showed a link between ASMR and areas of the brain associated with social behaviors like grooming and self-awareness.

If you’re interested in learning whether your personality demonstrates high levels of openness-to-experience (also branded as intellectual or imaginative) you can conduct a quick self-guided questionnaire on the Open Source Psychometrics Project website.

Whilst the funding behind ASMR research might be minimal, the field is undeniably growing due to the incredible surge in interest over the past 10 years. This Google Trends screenshot shows ASMR going from relative obscurity in 2012 to reaching its widest audience in 2022.

What sensations does ASMR make you feel?

The sensations caused by ASMR have been likened to a tingly almost effervescent feeling starting in the scalp but then cascading down the body. 

Moreover, in addition to self reported emotions of feeling calm and relaxed, physiological responses including a lower heart rate were also picked up from those that identified as being capable of experiencing ASMR. 

If you can’t relate to the description of a tingling feeling, don’t beat yourself up too much as you’re likely in the majority of the population who can most definitely hear these ‘triggers’ but just not feel them. 

Either that or perhaps you just haven’t found your trigger just yet.

Why does ASMR make me feel uncomfortable? 

For those familiar with the world of ASMR on YouTube you don’t need me to tell you how wide ranging and sometimes bizarre the video content can be (role play of an Alien Dr. performing operations on a pineapple being case in point!). 

Some of the most popular videos feature slow breathy whispers and gentle consistent tapping compilations. However even these triggers don’t evoke a pleasant and relaxing sensation in everyone!

In fact, the character traits of those who experience ASMR are well matched to those who experience ‘misophonia’, a condition that elicits a strong aversion to particular sounds. 

Hearing others chew food, gulp down a drink or smack their lips are all noises high up on the ASMR popular sounds list however they rank even higher in the annoyance felt by those who feel misophonia. 

It can even make individuals feel genuinely uncomfortable and even slightly anxious.

With this dichotomy of sensations reported when ASMR videos are played it’s no surprise that there tends to be a very clear divide between the proAMSR camp and those who stay well clear.  

Test yourself to see whether you relate to misophonia sufferers by trying to last as long as you can listening to Zach Choi ASMR eating fried chicken.

A final thought…

Despite the flood of ASMR videos being uploaded to platforms like YouTube over the past few years it’s been proven that the autonomous sensory meridian response is not a sensation which is, or can, be experienced by everyone.

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