It’s definitely not new, but with the invention of the internet, this hard to describe phenomenon has been thrust to the forefront of medical research. Not much is known about the hows and whys, but it certainly exists and its popularity is only continuing to grow.

So, what is it?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a phrase that was coined in 2010 by a woman named Jennifer Allen. She founded a website devoted to ASMR. It’s a hard thing to describe to those who don’t experience what it feels like, but it’s a sensation not unlike the feeling you get from a wire scalp massager–but on the inside of your head. Sometimes those tingles extend down the rest of your body, and you’re left in a trance-like state of relaxation.

The majority of people who experience ASMR report first being triggered in childhood after having someone give them personal attention while speaking softly. Other triggers can be gentle noises like fingers tapping or pages being turned in a book. The phenomenon is worldwide and also happens to people of all ages, though the triggers differ from person to person.

How does it happen?
While ASMR has been getting a lot of attention lately, there hasn’t been a lot of conclusive research on what causes it, and why some people experience it while others don’t. This is primarily due to the way we study the brain-MRI machines and electrodes stuck on your head don’t lend themselves to the relaxation ASMR produces, so getting accurate readings is difficult.

Theories have emerged that those who experience ASMR have brains that are wired slightly different than those who don’t. A study from Winnipeg saw that different areas of the brain were working together than what was expected. This atypical wiring had to do with the areas of the brain that associate with emotions. This atypical wiring is similar to another neurological condition called synesthesia, where the brain was wired differently for sensory association. Those with synesthesia see numbers as colours, and shapes having “tastes”. This similarity to those with ASMR now has the researchers looking more closely at the emotional reaction ASMR produces.

Currently, ASMR is not medically recognized and is accepted much like migraines are-real because a large number of people experience similar symptoms, but without enough scientific evidence to explain it.

Could you be one of them?
Most people report having an in-person experience the first time they notice ASMR, but if you’re itching to see if you’re part of the brain tingling crew, you’re in luck. There are thousands of YouTube videos for all different types of ASMR (role-play scenarios or a compilation of sounds) to test yourself. This genre is so popular that some of the more popular YouTube stars have quit their jobs to make videos full time.

If you turn out to be one of them, you will likely find these videos helpful for reducing symptoms of stress and insomnia, and you could very well have discovered a new (free) form of relief.