Have you ever come across one of those ASMR videos on YouTube?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and read this definition in a whisper:
“ASMR is the sensation experienced by some people in response to specific sights and sounds, described as a warm, tingling and pleasant sensation starting at the crown of the head and spreading down the body…sometimes described as ‘brain tingles’ or ‘brain orgasms.” — Researchers, University of Sheffield.
Did you whisper out the sentence?
CONGRATS! Now you know what it’s like to be an “ASMRtist” — a person who records themselves performing amplified sounds ranging from whispering voices to hair being brushed.
But what does ASMR stand for, and why is it so popular?
ASMR aka Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is the term coined by one of the pioneers of the ASMR community — Jennifer Allen.
I remember the first time I came across ASMR on YouTube, I was confused as hell like many in the comment sections.
Some thought that the whispering and exaggerated sounds of fingers tapping on book covers were hilarious. In contrast, others deemed the ASMR videos as relaxing — even claiming it helped them fall asleep.
I felt that I was missing something because I couldn’t experience the “tingles” or “brain orgasms” that other listeners were able to feel.
I couldn’t believe that people can fall asleep to these videos either. I tried it myself and ended up throwing my earbuds across the room because it wasn’t helping me knock out any quicker as others claimed it did.
“How the heck can you fall asleep to someone role-playing as a doctor, whispering into your ears?”
I didn’t get it.
The only thing that ASMR videos triggered was laughter because I couldn’t take these videos seriously, I thought they were silly.
Hence, I thought ASMR was merely a placebo. But this curiosity and jealousness of not being able to get the “feels” urged me to explore the internet for possible scientific evidence that backed up the anecdotal claims surrounding this phenomenon.
To my surprise, I found that ASMR was a lot more complex and beneficial than folks like myself give it credit for.
What ASMR-Sensitive Folks Have to Say
“It’s easy to give the ASMR community a weird look because it’s so niche. But when we choose to understand the value that it can bring, we realize that it’s no different than listening to music or playing video games to relax.”
Titled as “ASMR 20 Triggers To Help You Sleep ♥,” this viral video has gained over 35,000,000 views! Undoubtedly, the ASMR community on YouTube is thriving — with millions of viewers chilling back to the sounds of markers scribbling on paper and makeup brushes brushing the mic.
With the unforeseen value that ASMR has brought to its listeners, some have been inspired to create ASMR videos of their own to spread the wealth of serenity.
Maria Viktorovna, known as Gentle Whispering ASMR, expressed the significant change it has brought to her life when she discovered it:
“I was watching relaxation videos and therapeutic videos, like meditation and massage videos. And one day I saw a whisper video, and I clicked on it. From that moment, when I heard that lady’s voice, I felt a rush of tingles…It was definitely one of those ta-da moments for me.” — Maria Viktorovna, Interview with Vox
We can derive from such anecdotes that ASMR may produce a positive impact on those who watch it, even for those who had the intention to indulge in it as a joke.
Despite the positive claims about the tranquility it brings to the audience, what does science have to say about the physiological effects ASMR can have on listeners?
What Science Says About ASMR
In two 2018 studies led by Giulia Lara Poerio and fellow researchers from the University of Sheffield & Manchester Metropolitan University, they found surprising benefits that ASMR may have for listeners.
After subjects watched 3 ASMR videos, the results of the 1st study reported shocking physiological responses from those who do and do not experience ASMR:
- Calmness: Small increase (non-ASMR group) and a large increase (ASMR group)
- Stress: Small decrease (non-ASMR group)and a large decrease (ASMR group)
- Sadness: Small decrease (non-ASMR group) and a medium decrease (ASMR group)
Similar to the 1st study, the 2nd study also had subjects watch 3 ASMR videos, in which their heart rate was recorded this time:
- 2.0 BPM average decrease (non-ASMR group)
- 3.4 BPM average decrease (ASMR group)
Looking at the effects of ASMR on heart rate, it’s key to mention that a slower heart rate may be linked to feeling more relaxed.
For example, think about the first time you had to give a speech in front of your class. Your heart was probably pounding the moments leading up to your presentation.
However, after giving your speech, your thumping heartbeat hits the brakes as it begins to slow down. This decrease in heart rate from the relief of getting the presentation over with is one example supporting the idea that a slower heart rate may be correlated with relaxation.
From these 2 studies alone, the evidence supports the idea that not only can ASMR serve as a tool for relaxation and destressing, but that it may also prove to be beneficial for those who don’t experience ASMR.
Even though the increase in calmness for the non-ASMR group was smaller than the ASMR group, it doesn’t deny the serene effects it can have on listeners.
This means that although you might not experience the “brain tingles” that ASMR-sensitive folks can feel, you can still benefit from taking the time to watch/listen to ASMR given its ability to calm down the mind and heart to a certain degree.
A (Possible) Magic Remedy For Stress
While the research being done on the effects of ASMR is developing as we speak, it seems promising that the audiovisuals of exaggerated sounds can serve as a medium of therapy — much like the meditation or music one plays to get into a tranquil state of mind.
Whether your brain is reactive to ASMR, or seemingly immune to it like myself, I highly suggest giving it a chance — as I plan on doing again.
Who knows, maybe it might be an extraordinary experience and your brain will thank you for it. Or maybe you might just find it entertaining, which is an equally valid reason too!
It’s easy to give the ASMR community a weird look because it’s so niche. But when we choose to understand the value that it can bring, we realize that it’s no different than listening to music or playing video games to relax.
ASMR is just one of many ways to unwind from a stressful day, and perhaps we should all give it a chance. Although it might not be the “magic remedy” for all of your stresses, it has the potential to bring forth a bit of harmony in a life of chaos.