What does ASMR mean?
Shortly, ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is a natural reaction to different stimuli and it typically manifests as a tingling sensation on the skin. It typically starts from the scalp and then moves towards the back of the neck and spine. But, what are the most common stimuli ie. how can you experience ASMR? There are no all-encompassing types of ASMR stimuli, but there are certain common triggers. Most common triggers are audial, such as the sounds of brushing, tapping or white noise. Also, visual stimuli may help to trigger ASMR. The triggering stimuli vary person to person — do you know what triggers your ASMR?
ASMR triggers in a nutshell
There are two types of responses that often go hand-in-hand, physical and mental. A typical physical response consists of a tingle that moves throughout the body, starting from the head and moving downwards to the spine. Mentally then, it is a mild feeling of euphoria or positiveness that accompanies the physical tingles. Sometimes, certain people can also trigger ASMR with sheer will by focusing their attention to it, which is, however, extremely rare.
Most common characteristics of ASMR triggers
- ASMR Whispering
- Do you remember that time in your childhood when you played telephone and your friend cupped their hands, leaned towards you and whispered in your ear the magic phrase? This is the most common ASMR trigger to have been discovered!
- Personal attention
- This goes hand-in-hand with whispering, but may also be related to almost all of the other ASMR triggers. Whenever the ASMR artist performs their show, one of the key components to success is how the artist addresses their audience. It is crucial that there is a strong personal contact, which further captivates the viewer and creates immersion.
- Tapping fingers and other crisp sounds
- Crisp sound is a term which you often hear associated with ASMR. ‘Crisp sounds’ in itself is not a very descriptive term, so it requires some further explanation. For example, tapping a leather case rhytmically in swift succession with fingers may trigger ASMR for some.
- Repetition and slow movement
- Last but not least, ASMR videos often contain a person doing the same ASMR trigger for a lengthy period of time, while at times slowing the pace of the movement made to create the sound.
What exactly happens in a typical piece of ASMR content?
Let’s examine ASMR via an example. A typical ASMR video features a person talking with a calm, soothing voice which is followed by them making certain types of sounds, such as crinkling paper or tapping an object.
A common feature is that the stimulus pattern is repetitive ie. a certain sound and motion may go on for 30 minutes. As a newcomer, it is important to go through many different types of ASMR videos, since it may take a couple of tries to find the right type of artist, video and sounds to get your ASMR to trigger. Also, the quality of the audio can make a significant difference, so it is recommendable to use proper headphones. However, it has to be noted that some people may not get ASMR to trigger at all!
What makes people turn towards ASMR - the layperson's point-of-view
There are various reasons why people turn towards ASMR. The most common reason is, perhaps, that it helps people to relax and sleep better. If you do ASMR before going to sleep, it may help alleviate stress and make you both mentally and physically ready for bed. Others experience ASMR to help deal with chronic pain or depression. It has also been argued that people are enchanted by ASMR since it brings them back memories of childhood and mother’s care. Also, it can serve as a way of meditation.
Furthermore, it has even been put forward that people make themselves believe that the ASMR artist directly talks to them, which focuses the viewers’ attention solely toward the video, thus enhancing the effect. All in all, ASMR is such a new phenomenon that solid scientific evidence does not exist to wholly back any of these highly speculative arguments up.
What really happens - the scientific point-of-view
Now, after having examined the widely known points of ASMR, let’s take a look at what the scientific community thinks about the phenomenon. In the human body several things happen while experiencing ASMR sensations. The heart rate decreases while skin conductance increases. To further argue that not all videos or audiovisual stimuli do the same, a control group was shown different, non-ASMR videos and they did not have the same physiological response.
On the mental level, certain personality types are more prone to react ASMR stimuli. People who are open to experiences, neurotic while simultaneously being low on the scale of conscientiousness, agreeableness and extraversion have a higher probability to react to ASMR. Although, it has to be noted that since the phenomenon is so new and fresh research is just coming in, our knowledge and understanding of ASMR might change a lot in the coming years.
As discussed before, ASMR helps people to relax and alleviate stress. In fact, ASMR reduces as much stress as mindfulness meditation, at least for the people who are able to experience ASMR. Also, since it decreases heart rate at the same time, it may have therapeutic benefits to both physical and mental health. The article linked in the previous sentence is one of the first in a hopefully series of many scientific studies on ASMR. Currently, ASMR is being studied in universities across the globe, and new information is flowing in at a rapid pace. It is fascinating to see what results these studies yield and to learn the different benefits of practicing ASMR. People also use ASMR for tinnitus relief; however you should be cautious when using ASMR for tinnitus and listen to it at a low volume and only for short periods of time.
Food for thought - ASMR and misophonia, two ends of the spectrum
In an interesting study, it is hypothesized that misophonia (=when certain sounds make a person feel negative thoughts or angry, for example goose bumps from the sound of sandpaper being used, or, at a more serious level severe feelings of anger with certain sounds) and ASMR are two polar opposites on the same spectrum. In the aforementioned study, this is a hypothesis and it is not yet confirmed. It is an interesting thought, though and at least with common sense the connection is logical. However, it still leaves room for questions. For example, in ASMR video is often incorporated. Is it possible to have ASMR sensations and tingles without the sounds, just with the video? What about the opposite? We bet that in the coming years, these questions will get answered.