What Does ASMR Do to Your Brain?

ASMR is a tingling sensation that may be triggered by gentle sounds or a light touch.

Why does ASMR make you feel sleepy ... or angry?

ASMR — Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — is a tingling sensation that may be triggered by gentle sounds or a light touch. It’s been a huge online trend for years, with many creators, such as Sand Tagious and Life With MaK, getting millions of views for their YouTube videos.

Dr. Craig Richard, professor of physiology at Shenandoah University, described the sensation — and what exactly is going on in your brain — for Episode 2 of Inside Edition’s new digital show, The Breakdown.

How Does ASMR Work?

“Basically what it means is that you feel a sense of deep relaxation and light but pleasurable brain tingles,” Richard said. “It’s stimulated in moments of positive personal attention.”

That is, the feeling that comes over your scalp when you’re at the hairdresser, or the feeling of when you were a child and a teacher would kneel beside you to help with a problem, he said.

"That’s the key context for when ASMR is stimulated. Within that context, it’s the light voice, the light touch, the focused attention that tends to cause people to have that super-relaxing experience that’s often referred to as ASMR," he said.

One type of ASMR video online involves kinetic sand, a substance that mimics wet sand but does not dry out. ASMR artist Sand Tagious, who created unique videos for The Breakdown, cuts or scoops kinetic sand in his videos.

"It works because it fits the basic formula of ASMR triggers," Richard said. "What you have is someone who’s helping you ... because your brain interprets that as, ‘Oh, this person is helping to teach me something.' We get relaxed, we get focused and we continue watching that."

So Why Does It Feel Good?

"Your brain is getting into a super-relaxed state, probably driven by the neurohormone oxytocin," said Richard.

Oxytocin "causes a sense of deep relaxation, trust, comfort and all those other feelings that people describe when they’re watching ASMR."

But Why Does ASMR Make Some People Feel Uneasy?

For some people, watching ASMR videos creates a feeling of raised alertness. That’s because the brain is releasing increased levels of norepinephrine.

"This is something your brain releases when you feel threatened," he said. "This is a stranger in the video pretending to be your friend so you shouldn’t be relaxed because you don’t even know this person. Why are they acting like they know you?"

Ultimately, how people perceive the triggers and react to them depends on the individual.

For exclusive Sand Tagious videos and more from Richard, who is also the author of "Brain Tingles," watch the video above.