Mar 6th, 2020, 02:35 PM

Who is Benefiting from ASMR?

By Lauren Camerer
Image Credit: Bēhance/Santi Zoraidez
Image Credit: Bēhance/Santi Zoraidez
This new-age internet trend is helping some with their mental health through "tingles."

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, also known as ASMR, is a tingly sensation that one involuntarily gets in response to a range of visual and audible triggers like hand movements, whispering and tapping. It may be a strange concept to those who have never been exposed to it before, but it’s a major part of many other people's daily relaxation routine.

ASMR content can come in the form of audio by itself or alongside a video. Though its popularity has grown tremendously over the last few years, there is still little science pointing to what determines whether you will personally get tingles, how ASMR is beneficial to mental health and how much it actually relieves stress.

Despite this, popular YouTubers that create ASMR content (also self-titled as "ASMRtists") are able to make a living for themselves just by speaking softly into a microphone. Take Maria Viktorovna, AKA Gentle Whispering ASMR, for example; she made her ASMR video debut in 2011 and has since uploaded videos that have gained over 22 million views. Clearly this internet phenomenon is working for some people. But who?

When it comes to the audience of ASMR, it seems that some people can immediately identify with having experienced the desired effects, while others can’t comprehend the idea at all. It could be that these people who have never gotten the tingles just haven’t found their particular ASMR trigger yet, or maybe it’s simply not within their body's abilities.

In a study published in PeerJ, the most common self-reported ASMR triggers from participants were “whispering (75 percent), personal attention (69 percent), crisp sounds (64 percent) and slow movements (53 percent).” Dr. Craig Richard, from ASMR University, mentions that these frequent triggers could stem from habits of interpersonal bonding, some examples including parent and infant bonding, friendship bonding, family member bonding, etc. An article from ASMR University explains that “some of the basic biology of bonding is well established and this involves specific behaviors which stimulate the release of endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. These bonding behaviors and molecules may provide a good explanation for most of the triggers and responses associated with ASMR.”

Information from ASMR University – Origin Theory of ASMR. Graphic Credit: Amy Thorpe

In that same vein, it is extremely possible the origin of our tingles can go all the way back to when we were babies. Because this interpersonal bonding process is related to the reason why some experience ASMR, it’s understandable why these triggers that remind us of when we were younger are so relaxing. All at once, it feels as if nothing bad is going on in the world and everything will be completely fine.

Maybe you have a distinct memory from when you were younger of your hair being brushed and a wave of tingles rushing through your scalp. Or maybe the quiet sounds of a reader flipping the pages of a magazine made your ears prick up. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself completely mesmerized by Bob Ross painting his “happy little trees” in his documentary "The Joy of Painting." If any of these are ringing a bell, this could be a sign that you, too, could possibly experience ASMR and benefit from it like many others have.

If someone doesn’t know if they are able to, the best way to find out would be to do some research and spend time watching different types of ASMR videos to see what calms their mind the most. Beyond biology and childhood experiences, those who don’t have the ability to feel this sensation at all could be influenced by diet, environment, culture, disorders or drugs. But even if one doesn’t get the tingles, it doesn’t mean that they can’t simply feel relaxed by watching ASMR.

Information from the Smithsonian Magazine. Graphic Credit: Amy Thorpe & Bēhance/Denise Wawrzyniak

Another study done by the department of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England focused on finding the stress-reducing effects of ASMR. The researchers engaged a mix of 110 ASMR and non-ASMR experiencing participants and took measurements of their heart rates and skin conductance responses. The participants watched ASMR videos while researchers examined the frequency of their sensations, showing that the participants who had history experiencing ASMR had significantly lower heart rates compared to viewers who hadn’t experienced the sensation before.

ASMR has been equated to mindful meditation in many ways because they both encourage being present and easing the mind from daily stresses. The benefits of ASMR are very real to those who experience it, myself included. I started watching ASMR to fall asleep almost three years ago, and it has completely changed my relaxation routine for the better. What used to be me lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep for multiple annoying hours on end, turned into me watching about 15 minutes of personal attention ASMR and dozing off immediately. It was honestly kind of a miracle. And trust me, I had my doubts about this new-age mumbo jumbo internet trend at first, but it really has changed my life (and I think a lot of other people feel the same way).

It’s unfortunate that ASMR hasn’t had much research done about it, but hopefully that will begin to change the more it gains popularity. I have often pondered if ASMR could actually be a bit damaging, as in it’s just another way for us to get attached to our digital devices — and in the name of relaxation, we all know that phones aren’t necessarily the best things to turn to.

Without more studies exploring the effects of ASMR, perhaps it would be best for viewers to embrace a balance between open-mindedness and skepticism. But for right now, most people who consistently watch ASMR claim that it has only been a healthy, relaxing influence in their life. If that's the case for you as well — go for it. There is much to still discover about the fascinating world of ASMR, but until then, let’s just sit back and enjoy the tingles.