What is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and it's best described as the experience of a tingling sensation in the scalp, neck, back and arms in response to audio-visual triggers like whispering, tapping, and scratching.
"ASMR has been associated to the experience of synaesthesia, which is a phenomenon in which specific external stimuli causes an internal experience in a second, unstimulated modality," Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno told Men's Health.
Some say it feels like “brain massage”, with viewers often noting a pleasurable (sometime euphoric) state of relaxation while consuming ASMR content.
The popularity of ASMR has exploded over the last decade thanks to platforms like YouTube. It's estimated there's over 13 million ASMR videos online with many "ASMRtists" make a living from creating videos.
ASMR can come across as a little strange, usually showing people whispering reassuring phrases or preforming soothing tasks such as brushing their hair, folding towels or scratching different surfaces. Some ASMR creators use binaural recording techniques to simulate the acoustics of a three-dimensional environment. Celebrities are even getting on board, with stars like Cardi B performing ASMR with her trademark "okurrrrrr".
Why doesn’t everyone feel the effect of ASMR?
Research has found that only around 20 per cent of the world’s population experience strong ASMR effects and for some people, the sounds irritating instead of soothing.
"Whispering, personal attention, crisp sounds (tapping, fingernails, metallic foil, bubble wrap etc), slow movements and repetitive movements are amongst the highest scoring stimuli that are eliciting positive responses in some, and in others, causing irritation they frankly can’t wait to turn it off," Sokarno explains. "It’s almost a case of that you either you have it or you don’t. Though scoring higher on openness on personality tests, may be the willingness to engage with ASMR that could be contributing to the positives affects. Similar to the engagement of hypnosis, if you are eager to make it work then it may just have positive impacts."
What are the health benefits of ASMR
Despite its popularity, ASMR is a fairly new phenomenon. Since the stimulating effects of ASMR cannot be experienced by everyone, it’s difficult to pinpoint the mechanisms that drive the brain tingles.
"ASMR is in the infancy stage of scientific research and it may be some years before we know for who and with what intensity ASMR might work for people suffering with these presenting problems," Sokarno says.
However, fans in the ASMR community say that it helps with relaxation, stress relief and sleep problems.
"ASMR is said to have similar impacts on us in the way that music and meditation can have. The mindfulness and grounding associated with ASMR can help us maintain our focus on the present moment and really be in tune with our thoughts and senses. This has said to lower our arousal and slow down our heart rate."
Can ASMR have negative effects on a person?
"Individuals impacted in a negative way by the sounds in ASMR content may be attributable by a condition called “misophonia” – (hatred of sound)," Sokarno says. "Though Misophonia isn’t well researched and there is no diagnostic criteria for this though, People with misophonia can become irritated, enraged or even panicked when they hear their trigger sounds."
How to use ASMR
The beauty of ASMR is essentially anyone can try it. While only some may experience the tingling effects on the brain, it’s a nonetheless a great form of mediation and relaxation for anyone. Here are some of the most popular ASMR YouTube videos.