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Mental Health

ASMR: You're One Tap Away From Blissful Relaxation

Ever wondered why some video or audio helped you feel relaxed or even fall asleep? Discover how and why ASMR's calming effects have captivated researchers and enthusiasts worldwide.

Jun 25, 2024

5 min read

Written by Ishani Chatterji
Medically Reviewed by 

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Images of items commonly used in ASMR videos.

I was doing it again. It was way past midnight, and I was unable to sleep. So, of course, I started scrolling through my phone. An influencer’s set of perfectly manicured nails grabbed my attention. While tapping her nails on some paint bottles, she whispered, “Would you like me to do your nails?” and then suddenly, I was witnessing an entire nail routine filled with tapping, scratching, and whispering. Before I knew it, I was asleep. I had inadvertently entered the ASMR universe.

ASMR for beginners

If you are unfamiliar with the meaning of ASMR, here’s a little exercise. Head to any social media site and just type ‘ASMR Relaxation’. You will find a long list of videos to choose from a range of themes, including skincare, art, and even food.  It won’t take you long to get sucked into this world and be mesmerised enough to come back for more.

A sensory phenomenon akin to meditation, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), involves a pleasurable and soothing 'tingling' sensation felt usually in the scalp and neck by those capable of experiencing it. This response is triggered by certain auditory and visual stimuli, including whispering, tapping, personal attention, and even undergoing a medical examination. 

Sanpreet Kaur, an advertising professional, often turns to roleplay ASMR to relax her overthinking mind after a long day at work. She shared a particularly interesting video of a creator applying fake makeup using ‘wooden makeup’. “I use ASMR roleplay videos to sleep at least two to three times a week. It feels like someone is sitting beside you and helping you stay calm.” Like most of us, Sanpreet also stumbled upon these videos on social media but now turns to them whenever she needs a calm mind before bedtime. 

Understanding how ASMR operates & what it does to your brain

Dr Rishab Verma, MD Psychiatrist, explains how ASMR works, noting that it is a tingling somatosensory phenomenon that originates in the scalp and extends all the way to the back of the neck, arms, and legs. He mentioned that this sensation arises from sections of the brain like the prefrontal cortex and areas that are associated with reward, empathy, and certain aspects of social behaviour. He also pointed out that ASMR also induces changes in heart rate, which is part of the autonomic nervous system triggered by the sounds and visuals of ASMR.

Blog quote

 I use ASMR roleplay videos to sleep at least two to three times a week. It feels like someone is sitting beside you and helping you stay calm.

Sanpreet Kaur, an advertising professional, Mumbai

Multiple experiments have been conducted, suggesting that ASMR has a positive effect. For instance, Poerio et al. 2018 conducted an online experiment in which 813 participants out of 1002 were experiencing ASMR. The participants viewed two ASMR videos and one non-ASMR video, each lasting about three minutes. Those sensitive to ASMR reported increased excitement, calmness, and decreased stress and sadness after watching the ASMR videos compared to non-sensitive participants. This suggests that ASMR induces positive emotions, such as calmness and excitement, primarily in individuals sensitive to ASMR triggers. 

Similarly, research conducted at Goldsmiths, University of London, led by Joydeep Bhattacharya, Professor of Psychology, and a team of psychologists, found that when people watch certain videos that trigger emotions, they may experience a tingling sensation in their head and spine, which they have termed an ‘afterglow’ effect in the brain.

What (more) does science say?

Other than the above-mentioned research, there is enough reason and science to believe that tingles actually help you relax. Dr Rishab explained how reports of ASMR experiences appear to have some features in common with the state of ‘flow’. Flow represents a heightened state of concentration and reduced perception of time passing, often linked to peak performance in various activities, including sports, according to Dr Rishab.

He also spoke about a study titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by  Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi 1991 and another by Swann et al., 2014, that discussed ASMR. Participants in these studies mainly used ASMR for relaxation, and 98% of users agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. Around 80% of participants gave a positive response when asked whether ASMR affected their mood. Also, 38% of those experiencing chronic pain revealed that ASMR improved their symptoms. The study's findings also point out that ASMR delivers temporary mood relief for those with depression; many individuals are using ASMR for this purpose.

Trying out ASMR ‘triggers’

The triggers of ASMR are different for different people. The rustle of paper has always left me feeling relaxed, and this is a form of ASMR. A quick search on YouTube will leave you spoilt for choice if this is the kind of sound that helps you relax and feel those tingles.

Dr Rishab further explained the different mediums for experiencing ASMR. He broke them down to:

  1. Sounds: Whispering, crushing sounds, using fingernails to create sounds through tapping or scratching
  2. Visuals: Slicing movements, objects fitting right into another object, near-miss perfect blending, mixing of colours, etc.
  3. Tactile: Fingers running on your back, neck touches, tickling, humming through the nose

There is so much about this tingling and triggering world of ASMR that we still don’t know.  

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a unique phenomenon whose rise to worldwide popularity has been remarkable. ‘Weird Sensation Feels Good: The World of ASMR’ at London's Design Museum was the first-of-its-kind exhibition dedicated to exploring the intriguing realm of ASMR. It introduced the world to online creators like Gibi and Made in France ASMR, known as ‘ASMRtists’, who are now innovating and pushing creative boundaries within the ASMR community. Even the BBC has made a documentary about it.

Needless to say, the enigmatic world of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response will continue to captivate and intrigue both researchers and enthusiasts alike. Whether it’s YouTube videos or reels on Instagram, its ability to induce pleasurable tingling sensations and promote relaxation seems to be a go-to for many people. As scientists delve deeper into understanding ASMR’s effects on the brain, much remains to be uncovered about this fascinating phenomenon. 

Frequently asked questions

What are some common misconceptions about ASMR?

One of the biggest misconceptions about ASMR is that it only involves sounds and audio. However, it also includes visual triggers like videos. The other misconception is that it is sexual in nature, but research from Swansea University suggests people are 17 times more likely to use ASMR content to fall asleep than to find sexual pleasure.

Can anyone experience ASMR?

Studies indicate those open to new experiences often gravitate towards ASMR, valuing its diverse sensory inputs. Conversely, people high in neuroticism, known for heightened emotional sensitivity, may turn to ASMR for stress relief, finding solace in its calming effects. Their keen attention to detail and intricate inner worlds may heighten their responsiveness to ASMR triggers, enriching their experience.

Is ASMR scientifically proven to be effective?

Research and studies have shown how ASMR helps with anxiety and relaxation. Several researchers have contributed to the study of ASMR, including Giulia Poerio, Emma L. Barratt, Nick Davis, and Joydeep Bhattacharya. Their work, along with that of others in the field, has given us a valuable understanding of the physiological and psychological effects of ASMR, advancing our perception of this intriguing phenomenon.

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