You have probably stumbled upon videos of people whispering, tapping on objects or creating odd repeating sounds. If you don’t experience ASMR, you may find these videos weird and awkward. But for those who do experience it, ASMR promotes “happy hormones” such as oxytocin and helps to relax, ease anxiety and get better sleep.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and the term was coined only in 2010. Now ASMR is the third most popular search term on YouTube worldwide, and interest in this unique brain phenomenon has exploded over the last 10 years.
So, how does ASMR work? Many people describe it as a calming, tingling sensation or “tingles” on their scalp, neck and spine. The tingles come when ASMR-experiencers hear, see and feel certain triggers, such as whispering into a microphone, nail tapping, crinkling of paper, delicate hand movements, soft touch and so on. These are all typical triggers you can see and hear in ASMR videos.
In fact, many people can remember times in their life when a friend was playing with their hair or when somebody was reading aloud in a calm, soft-spoken voice — and they would get this pleasant and relaxing sensation which is now known as ASMR. So this phenomenon had been around for a long time before the term was coined.
It’s interesting that a number of people got introduced to ASMR without knowing what it was when they watched a popular TV show from the 80s, The Joy of Painting with artist Bob Ross. During the show, Bob Ross was painting landscapes. His soft-spoken voice and gentle sounds of tapping the canvas had an extremely relaxing and soothing effect, and many viewers admitted that they watched the show just to relax. In a way, Bob Ross became an ASMR pioneer and he is often referred to as the “godfather of ASMR”.
So far, there have been very few studies on ASMR. A 2017 study discovered that people who are able to experience and reap the benefits of ASMR are more likely to be artistic, self-conscious, have anxiety and be prone to depression. If you check out the comments section under ASMR videos, you’ll see that a lot of viewers claim such videos help them cope with stress, panic attacks and anxiety, as well as help them fall asleep.