What is ASMR?

ASMR is an abbreviation for autonomous sensory meridian response, which describes a tingling, static-like, or goosebumps sensation triggered by specific audio or visual stimuli. These sensations are said to spread across the skull or down the back of the neck, as well as down the spine or limbs in some cases. Some people report pleasant feelings of relaxation, calm, sleepiness, or well-being when they experience ASMR sensations.

What can trigger ASMR?

ASMR is not experienced by everyone. Those who do appear to have the experience in response to various triggers or situations involving sight, touch, or sound. Specific stimuli can vary in intensity, and while one person may respond to the sound of whispering, another person may experience ASMR while:

  • Talking softly or moving slowly
  • Tapping or typing
  • Close personal attention or eye contact
  • Massage, hair brushing or haircuts
  • Humming or chewing
  • Light patterns
  • Slowly turning a page or folding paper
  • Scratching, crisp or squishing sounds
  • Squishing or crunching sounds
  • Applying makeup to the face

It’s interesting to note that the videos may prompt an ASMR response, in part because ASMR can occur without the sensation of physical touch and instead through visual and auditory triggers that stimulate tactile sensations.

Does ASMR work or help as people online suggest?

The question “Does ASMR work” or “Does ASMR help” is not so simple. Some people claim that the practice of watching ASMR videos helps to calm or relax them, while others don’t get what the excitement is all about. What helps one person may or may not help another, and it’s too early to explain precisely why or how that is.

The first peer-reviewed study published in 2015, and another in 2018, showed that people who experienced ASMR had reduced heart rate while watching ASMR videos, and the reduction was comparable to other relaxation methods. ASMR community public forum discussions have suggested that inducing ASMR could potentially help to relieve symptoms like stress or chronic pain. Others are hopeful ASMR may offer therapeutic potential in the future, possibly as a tool to ease insomnia, depression or anxiety symptoms.

“If the question is, do ASMR stimuli provoke a physiological response in brain activity and in the body, then yes, there is some empirical evidence that it does,” says David E. Warren, PhD, a University of Nebraska Medical Centre neuroscience researcher, based on his reading of ASMR publications. “Does empirical evidence exist that ASMR reliably alters mood or has long-term effects on mental health?” There isn’t. There have been no large-scale clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of ASMR stimuli for those critical mental health attributes.”

While there is a growing interest in ASMR these days, there have been relatively few scientific studies conducted to date, including studies on the conditions that may trigger an ASMR state. While the experience may include a genuine physiological response, much more scientific research is required to fully comprehend the ASMR phenomenon.


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