ASMR: Understanding the Science behind the Phenomenon

Everything you need to know about the relaxing ‘brain tingles’ that has taken social media by storm.
Kashyap Vyas

When we look at the most talked-about topics for the past few years, ASMR will be surely on the list. The term became popular in a short amount of time.

You can see people on social media raving about it, YouTube videos getting millions of clicks, and now it has even got the attention of the science community!


So what is ASMR and how did it become such a big deal in a very short period of time? Let’s examine.

A tingling sensation, a euphoric experience: something indefinable?

ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a tingling sensation that you feel in the back of your head, which travels down your back and sides. The tingling sensation is a feeling that is very hard to explain through words.

Some say that it is like experiencing a mild electric shock at the back of your head. The aftereffect of this sensation is that it leaves the body in a state of calmness and ease.

You won’t notice it the moment you hear ASMR audio, but it gradually builds up on you. There are specific triggers that cause the tingling experience and these triggers are called the stimuli or ASMR triggers.

Most people who listen to ASMR identify whispering as the number one trigger. This is why you hear most ASMR videos to have a whispering undertone.

The softer the whisper, the more effective ASMR is going to be.

There are several other triggers like chewing, slight tapping noises, white noise, scratching sound on the skin, rain, water droplets, etc.

This is the reason why you see many ASMR videos to have a combination of these sounds. The triggers will not work the same for everyone and will be different from person to person.

What is ASMR? Where did it all begin?

The term ASMR was coined barely a decade ago by Jennifer Allen in 2010. She took to a forum to explain about her experience with various triggers and a few other members joined in, citing they also had such unexplainable experiences.

Jennifer Allen was reading through the posts on a forum. It is where she read a post by a user named okatwhatever51838 about “weird sensation” that “feels good.”

She instantly connected to that post because she too experienced what the user has written. A tingling euphoric sensation caused by certain factors. 

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Jennifer realized that she was not alone when it comes to experiencing the ASMR sensations when she read the other comments. 

So she made a Facebook group called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Group and this was the start of something that was going get increasingly popular. People from all over the world became part of the group sharing their experiences, discussing the various triggers that help them experience the sensation.

The popularity of ASMR

More and more people began searching online about ASMR and YouTube suddenly started seeing an uptick in videos tagged with ASMR. There are now over 11 million ASMR videos on YouTube.

Many of these videos are meticulously made with high-quality microphones that capture even the subtlest nuances of each sound. The whispers are realistic and if you were to wear a headphone, it is like someone is whispering very close to your ears.

And ASMRtists mix in a variety of other sounds to increase the number of ASMR triggers in the video. Now, there are numerous ASMR videos that you can find on various platforms like YouTube, Spotify, etc.

Another development in ASMR videos or audios is the addition of role-playing where the content is tied to a particular setting. You can find ASMR content on haircuts, massages, nature, etc.

The objective of adding various elements like these into the ASMR content is to give the listener maximum immersion, improving the chances of triggering the stimuli.

Applications of ASMR

People do ASMR to get real results and much of these are aimed at helping their body and mind to relax. ASMR is known to treat insomnia by facilitating a soothing atmosphere, paving the way for the body to induce sleep.

Another benefit is that it is said to reduce anxiety in the listener.

A significant part of ASMR audience consists of the youth ranging from 18 to 24-year-olds. Google data shows that the majority of the audience connected with ASMR content through I-want-to-relax moments.

By 2015 itself, the search for ASMR on Google saw an increase of about 200%.

What does science say?

Since ASMR gained traction in a very short span of time, there isn’t enough concrete data that we can use to gauge its effectiveness. However, researchers have delved into the subject and many tests and studies are underway.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield conducted the first study of its kind on ASMR and found results that are in favor of ASMR.

The researchers found out the people who experience the phenomenon had significantly reduced heart rate when compared with others who didn’t.

Dr. Poerio said: "Our studies show that ASMR videos do indeed have the relaxing effect anecdotally reported by experiencers -- but only in people who experience the feeling. This was reflected in ASMR participants' self-reported feelings and objective reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants. What's interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness. "

The study also found the people who experience ASMR effects were calmer and relaxed. However, the keyword here is “people who experience” and this means that not everyone can experience ASMR.

And, since research on ASMR is very limited, we do not know the demographic separation between people who experience ASMR and people who can’t.

Since researchers have taken an active interest in this topic, we can expect to see more data on ASMR and how it impacts us mentally and physically.

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