The experience has been called attention induced head orgasm, attention induced euphoria, and attention induced observation euphoria, as well as the tingles, brain massage, head tingle, brain tingle, spine tingle, or brain orgasm.
The acronymic neologism which has stuck is ASMR – autonomous sensory meridian response.
The phenomenon is autonomous in so far as it is contained, but also is particular to each, and is polymorphous and perverse – the triggers and responses of each are non-identical to those of others, and we may conject that it is not a universal or natural phenomenon.
It is Sensory because of the emphatic quality of the process of sensing in creating the phenomenon, in making a notable experience of it. It may be for instance that the emphatic aspect of a recording of a sound makes it more effective as a trigger than the original sound, and role play emphasises this artifice. The containing structure of the category of ASMR organises such an emphatic attention. The distinctly artificial triggers of ASMR have a sense of standing for themselves, shorn of any meanings which might stand out other than that of their framing by ASMR, but with a sense of being a call, of calling forth a response, they have the quality of semblants.
Meridian it is said is used in place of the term orgasm, since many adherents of ASMR object in general that their experience is not sexual, and particularly that the pleasure is different than that of a sexual orgasm. Meridian evokes the notional pathways for the flow of vital bodily energy particular to Chinese medicine or acupuncture, or the astronomical concept of a peak, zenith, or high point. It may or may not be fair to note that there seems to be a denegation of the sexual dimension of ASMR which points in the direction of just such a dimension. Indeed ASMR is only rarely combined with explicitly sexual motifs. In this way perhaps ASMR maintains its discreteness as a phenomenon, involving the libidinal drive, but without the messy, perhaps less comfortably contained significations of sex.
The fourth term, Response, reminds us that there is a relation – there was something of the drives, that was already experienced in an intimate, unnamed, undefined and poorly contained way that as ASMR is given form such that it can be interpolated as discreet invocation through which the drive can be safely channelled in what can be understood as a response, the semblants involved in ASMR seem to relate to the invocatory drive. They are, it seems, semblants of the objet petit a of the voice – those partial objects of the body, of the invocatory drive.
Beyond what we might read from the component words of the acronym, ASMR functions as a proper name, told to the Other. In discussions about ASMR among its adherents there is a frequent concern with the question of what it really is, and a range of answers running from the religious to scientific, with hopes of underpinning it, giving it meaning, or ascribing use. There are high hopes among some that neuroscience can give them the assurance that they want, the confirmation that this phenomenon which is not experienced by everyone, can be recognised by science as distinct and really existing. This matter of formulating and underpinning ASMR seems important to its effectiveness as a phenomenon in so far as its circumscription as a subject of attention is part of what produces its pleasurable experience and in so doing sublimating that which had felt not contained: a disembodied trace of an unbounded invocation, a remainder of voice, which may threaten an encounter with a real, but which in the activity named ASMR is organised, is sublimated as a new pleasure.