You may have never heard of ASMR before, but you may have experienced it.
It’s the tingling sensation on the back of your scalp or on your neck when you hear certain subtle sounds: Like a whisper, or the soft drumming of nails against glass, or the lighting of a match – even the soothing voice of the late painter Bob Ross.
ASMR, or “autonomous sensory meridian response,” has been around for close to a decade, but finally made its way into the mainstream with a Michelob Ultra commercial during the Super Bowl Sunday night. The ad featured actress Zoe Kravitz whispering softly into a microphone, tapping her nails against the bottle, all to get us to buy some beer.
It’s a big trend right now, and there are countless videos on YouTube of people whispering directly into microphones and tapping their fingers on things to try and stimulate an ASMR response for viewers.
ASMR was first coined in 2010 and has since gathered thousands of faithful followers online. Content creators on YouTube, for example, upload hours-long videos of them stroking the camera’s lens with makeup brushes, drawing with crayons, drumming their fingers against leather and creating other similar tingly sounds that users claim help them sleep and calm down.
Everyone’s triggers are different: some may ooze with satisfaction at the sound of a page turning, others from a laugh – and others may not experience ASMR at all.
But some academics say it’s not just the satisfaction of this brain massage that makes the experience so special. It may actually be good for something. A UK study says participants reported ASMR provided temporary relief for those suffering from depression and chronic pain, while others said it helped them deal with stress.
So yes, a lot of people find ASMR relaxing. Others find it horrifying. Or at the very least it freaks them out, like the Michelob Ultra ad featuring Kravitz did
It’s not Kravitz that’s the problem, it’s just that ASMR is not for everyone! For every person that chills out to the sound of someone rubbing Velcro or sipping from a beer bottle, there’s someone else who thinks ASMR feels like being haunted by a very quiet ghost with no sense of personal space.
CNN’s AJ Willingham and Brandon Griggs contributed to this story.