If you are like many other people, you probably enjoy watching videos online. If you let your playlist continue to play for a while, you might run into a video that appears quite strange at first: a person whispering into or tapping their fingernails on an object. Wait, what are they doing?
Exactly. A bit strange, right?
The first time you see one of these videos you might think, “How does this whackjob have so many views?!” You might also think, “Wow, I want to do this, like, IMMEDIATELY!”
Over the last few years, a new video genre has emerged, with these videos popping up everywhere. Do they belong in the healing or entertainment category? Maybe, both!
These videos are showcasing what’s called Audio Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. They’re trending right now and they’re fascinating!
What is ASMR?
Have you ever listened to a song and felt pins and needles running up and down your neck and spine? This is the same feeling that ASMR attempts to replicate. Some people report different sensations: pins and needles, a warm buzzing feeling, an opening of intuition, connections to their hearts, or just light tickles, but the end goal is the same: people watch/listen to these videos to feel good.
The reason for the euphoric tingling sensation is not widely understood. Scientists have known for years that some people are more sensitive than others, especially when it comes to light, sound, and the various levels and hues of each.
In one study, participants were placed in an MRI and exposed to popular ASMR cues. The individuals who experienced the tingling sensation were shown to have reduced connectivity between their frontal lobes and the sensory regions of the brain. This reduced connection is thought to make it easier for emotions to be triggered by varied sets of external stimuli.
When you hear “reduced connectivity,” you might think enjoying ASMR is a form of disability; however, by no means are these individuals less smart, aware, or healthy than others. On the contrary, people who connect emotions to sounds and visual cues actually score higher on many personality traits tests. Those who can garnish the euphoria of sound are proven to be more empathetic, open to new experiences, and even more in touch with their own emotions.
The fluid connectivity in these regions of the brain allow for a kind of bleeding-over effect, whereby they build internal bridges between sets of their senses. When a person is able to taste words, feel sounds, or hear colors, they are thought to have synesthesia. The blending of two, or more senses is rare; though evidence suggests that people who enjoy ASMR might have some form of this unique cognitive gift.
Over the last few years, some people have started recording the sounds that trigger these physiological responses. In ASMR culture, these creators are called ASMRtists, or maybe, “asmertists.”
The warm buzzes we receive from feel-good chemicals, the ones that follow ASMR videos, are due to floods of dopamine, a chemical in our brains that is responsible for making us happy. Whenever we feel safe, happy, and content, we receive several undeniable health benefits.
For those who are addicted to opioids and heavy pain killers, and who seek a more holistic approach, ASMR is a key treatment.
The joy some people experience when exposed to ASMR can last for hours and longer. After 1-3 hours of ASMR listening, many reported dulled or eased chronic pain. The reason for this is because the body can often only experience one thing at a time. When there is a rush of dopamine, pain is removed from center stage and the ASMR listeners are chemically nudged to ignore most of their discomforts.
Just like pain relief, individuals who watch ASMR content say they feel loved and safe for hours after a session, implementing it strategically throughout their day to brighten their moods.
However, unlike most of the benefits listed, many reported a sense of wellbeing after even one ASMR session. This occurred even when they were unable to feel the stereotypical tingling sensation experienced by typical users. This could be due to the closeness felt between the performer and the observer.
Most videos focus on sounds that can only be heard when you are very near to another human. For many of us, especially adults, the experience can be akin to living with a mother, father, or loved one. Even if the sound doesn’t trigger a physiological response, it is comforting to know that somebody is near, and they care for you.
Deep Relaxation and Better Sleep
For both the reasons already listed, it is easier to sleep and relax when we are not in pain and when we feel loved. While ASMR is an upgrade to the standard self-improvement and relaxation audio content, people have used similar audio to help them fall asleep for years, even before the concept of ASMR.
Many find it difficult to unwind at night. The days bustle swirls around their minds while they stare restlessly at the ceiling. For people who can’t seem to turn off their brains, noise machines have been used to echo waves from a beach, crickets chirping in a field, whales singing, and thunderstorms rolling across the sky. These repetitive sounds have helped people relax and fall asleep for generations.
Popular Forms of ASMR
There are wide varieties of ASMRs, and not all ASMR sounds affect everyone. Some enjoy listening to people brushing hair, while others may enjoy listening to the sound of people chewing. Regardless of what is being recorded, most focus on private experiences.
When first starting your journey into the world of ASMR, be aware of any misophonia, hatred of sounds, that you may have.
Some people are commonly triggered by open mouth chewing, tapping, or pen clicks. If there is a sound that affects you, be careful which audio you consume. Exposing yourself to one of these sounds early on could turn you off to ASMR forever.
Without a doubt, the most popular type of ASMR, is whispering! Even if the video is not focused around the actual speaking, content creators will usually address the audience in a hushed voice before the video starts.
If you are new to ASMR, don’t be discouraged if you can’t enjoy a person whispering. Speech patterns, mouth moisture, and accents vary from person to person. While many prefer British accents and a female voice, some like lisps and lip smacking.
It’s a wonderfully diverse world, isn’t it?! WOW!
Many ASMRtists use special microphones to personalize specific sounds, one of which looks like a human head. Creators will drape high quality wigs over these microphones and gently pull a comb through the hair. Those who enjoy getting their own hair brushed by another, associate the familiar sound with the feeling.
Just like brushing, many like having their backs scratched.
In these videos, mics are either directly scratched or the artist slowly drags their nails up and down a nearby surface.
The level of thought and intention that goes into ASMR content is quite impressive, and seems to span a broad spectrum of ideas and innovations.
Repetitive sounds like these are more focused on proximity. The sound of a loved one reading a book in bed or working quietly at their desk can help the listeners feel like they are not alone.
The rustling of paper being flipped-over every few seconds, a pen nib gliding across parchment, or the consistent clacking of a mechanical keyboard can help many feel like there is someone just out of sight – someone who might love us.
And thus we feel nurtured and heard, even if for a moment.
Chewing sounds are the most polarizing of all ASMR. Chances are, you either love or hate the sound of another human being chewing. In this ASMR type, the recorded person eats, slurps, or crunches on a wide variety of foods. Many who enjoy mukbang, watching people eat large quantities of food, also enjoy chewing styled ASMR.
Not for Everyone
While the ASMR audience has been growing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many are alone at home, there are many people who abhor this unusual craze.
For some, misophonias are too challenging for them. The sounds of people whispering, chewing, and typing can cause a visceral response. For these people, enjoying ASMR is out of the question.
If you find it difficult to be around these sounds in real life, don’t be surprised if you don’t enjoy them in your digital life either.
Not every ASMR will nurture you. Some will really piss you off!
Due to the fundamental relationship between SMR and memory retrieval, individuals who have had bad experiences associated with the sounds in videos, things like brushing hair or cleaning teeth, may find that reliving the memory to be too traumatic to enjoy.
Keep an Open Mind
It might not be for everyone, but studies show that people who start listening to ASMR and expect it to be a pleasurable experience are more likely to enjoy the benefits of listening to ASMR.
On the contrary, if you are convinced that you will hate ASMR, you are much more likely to have a negative experience.
This is the same in all aspects of our lives. When we enter an experience with positivity, openness, clarity, and relaxation, we increase the possibility that the experience will be enjoyable and beneficial.
Additionally, the more we are proactive in any experience, even the most difficult ones, the more we will arrive at our destination with light, love, and joy in our hearts.
Venture carefully into the world of ASMR. Love yourself in all things. Remember, too, that the more work you do internally means the less the external will negatively impact your life.
YOU ARE LIGHT AND LOVE!