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Tapping your way to serenity: your brain and heart on ASMR

An illustration featuring a person with shoulder-length brown hair listening to headphones with their eyes closed. There are artistic swirls and images of a makeup brush, a person with a long Q-tip and an electric razor floating around the headphones. The person looks relaxed and content.
Charnel Hunter

If you’ve spent some time on TikTok or YouTube recently, you might have stumbled across ASMR content without even knowing it. From long acrylic nails tapping away on everyday objects to slow, soft whispers, ASMR content is a multifaceted and rapidly growing source of relaxation for millions. But what’s the science behind this brain-tingly phenomenon, and why do so many people love it?

If you ask Craig Harris Richard about his first experiences with ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, he’ll tell you about Bob Ross. As a kid, he’d turn on the legendary public television painter and fall into a deep state of relaxation with the help of Bob’s calming voice and the sound of his paintbrush moving across the canvas. With each stroke, Craig remembers experiencing a sparkly sensation in his brain, what he now knows to be the ASMR-induced “brain tingles.”

Craig is one of the premiere researchers exploring the science behind ASMR. He is a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University and the host of two ASMR podcasts: “Sleep Whispers” and “Calm History.” Host Anita Rao talks with Craig about his research on what ASMR content does to our brains and his theories on why.

ASMR artist Semide also joins the conversation, sharing her love story with ASMR and more about what it is like to craft tingly-worthy content for her 300,000-plus subscribers. Semide is the creator of the popular ASMR YouTube channel Semide ASMR, where she does real person ASMR and medical roleplay.

Anita rounds out the conversation talking with Laura Nagy about her experience turning to ASMR for comfort during a season of heartbreak. Laura is an Australian filmmaker, writer and producer, and she tells her ASMR story in full detail in the 2021 Audible Original podcast “Pillow Talk” that she created and hosted.

Special thanks to ASMR Em and XO Katie ASMR for contributing your tingle-worthy voices to this week's episode!

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Gabriela Glueck is a producer for Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, health and relationships.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.