You've probably seen #asmr while scrolling or whilst browsing on YouTube, and thought to yourself, "what on earth is this?" Or perhaps you spotted it on a major Super Bowl ad this year? Why are these people popping bubble wrap and whispering affirmations?
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, known as ASMR, is the tingling sensation on the back of the scalp, neck or spine that is caused by specific auditory triggers. AKA "brain tingle" or "attention induced euphoria," it's estimated that 20% of people have a strong reaction to these triggers with another 40% having a more mild reaction.
ASMR is known to cause a relaxing sensation and can even be used to help people sleep.
There are a wide variety of triggers that people find relaxing. Some of the most popular YouTube videos in this category include triggers like whispering, page-turning, fire crackling, clinking, tapping, and playing with sticky substances like honeycomb and slime. Many people report having specific triggers that work best for them and some even say they have absolutely no response to some triggers but a heightened response to others.
Despite many people experiencing these sensations in response to specific sounds, scientists are still not entirely sure why these effects occur or why they only impact some people.
A clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, Steven Novella, theorizes that this response may be a type of small seizure that the body interprets as pleasurable.
This can also explain the varied response and triggers as everyone has different biochemical structures in the brain, impacting how these sounds affect them.
Some scientists also believe that these experiences are related to synesthesia, a condition where certain senses are crosslinked in the brain. Traditionally, this can lead to sounds having identifiable tastes or numbers always being associated with a specific color. However, this concept can also apply to ASMR where the senses of hearing and sensation are crosslinked, causing a physical response to very specific auditory triggers.
Surveys have also been conducted on those that experience the tingling sensations. One study even suggested that these experiences can improve mood, relaxation or even minimize pain sensations throughout the body.
The varied responses and positive effects clearly show why these ASMR videos have grown in popularity.
Specifically for relaxation, scientists theorize that besides the physical tingles and other calming sensations that come along with the audio triggers, taking time to focus on any sensation at all is inherently calming. In a way, the response coming from this audio is similar to the response coming from meditation or other mindfulness techniques.
Regardless of why it works, perhaps one of the most striking aspects of this movement is how large it has become thanks to the internet. Many people who watch these videos on YouTube or other websites comment that as children, they experienced "brain tingle" when watching programs like Bob Ross and listening to the sound of brushes over the canvas.
Many have also discovered their love of ASMR before it was classified as such and would resort to watching beauty tutorials. The clinking of makeup brushes on palettes would elicit a relaxing, soothing sensation in viewers.
With the rise of the internet, ASMR fans have learned that they are not alone in their sensations and, in fact, are part of a larger community around the world of people who use this media to relax, sleep and manage pain.