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What is ASMR? What You Need to Know About This Strange, Relaxing Sensation
asmr
Self-Development

What is ASMR? What You Need to Know About This Strange, Relaxing Sensation

Ready to find out if you can feel ASMR?

The internet truly is a beautiful thing. Yes, there are dark sides to the online experience but, in connecting people around the globe, our world wide web has brought to light some really amazing things that we otherwise might have never been exposed to. (Cat videos! Memes!)

One of the more recent ideas that’s come to our attention courtesy of the internet is ASMR. You may have heard of this viral phenomenon because of the influx of videos on YouTube and other platforms that feature people whispering, tapping and brushing hair in slow movements, all for the sake of providing a sensory, relaxing experience to their viewers. 


It may sound strange, but these ASMR video creators are tapping into something very real. ASMR media can trigger legitimate human sensations, that is, if you’re lucky enough to be able to feel it. If you’re even the slightest bit intrigued, keep reading to find out what ASMR actually is and how you might go about experiencing it for yourself. 

ASMR: Autonomous sensory meridian response

ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” This scientific sounding term is essentially a fancy description for that tingling sensation you might feel running up the back of your head or spine when you hear (or actually feel) certain sounds. 

The idea of ASMR was put into words by Jennifer Allen who started a Facebook group in 2010 so that she could find other people who, like her, felt these tingling sensations. Because not everyone experiences ASMR, the internet became an important tool for connecting people who do. Together, they started raising awareness about what triggers ASMR and how ASMR works, eventually leading to the scientific community taking notice to investigate the phenomenon. . 

​​How do you know if you’ve experienced ASMR?

You might still be wondering “what is ASMR?” It’s not easy to describe. It’s kind of one of those things you have to feel for yourself to understand. However, since not everyone experiences ASMR, you may not be able to get a firsthand encounter with this tingling sensation. (Having an openness to experience ASMR will help you be more likely to be able to feel it.)

The best way to describe the feeling is like getting the chills or the shivers in response to a certain sensory experience, usually a specific sound or touch, but smells or even sight can trigger ASMR too. 

autonomous sensory meridian response
(Goran Minov / EyeEm / Getty)

One interesting fact about those who are experiencing ASMR is that there is an overlap between ASMR and synesthesia, which is a neurological condition in which multiple senses get stimulated at the same time. For instance, those with synesthesia may comment how they can “taste” a certain sound.)

According to a 2015 study, only around two to four percent of people have synesthesia. However, six percent of people with ASMR also have synesthesia. Certain people seem to have heightened senses overall that makes them more sensitive to various stimuli. 

What happens when experiencing an ASMR video or audio?

ASMR usually happens as a sensory response to a video or audio recording that contains a person’s specific ASMR triggers, like certain sounds. Usually, an ASMR video creator can get you feeling a pleasurable sensation that begins on your scalp. Then, as you keep watching or listening, that tingling feeling might slowly spread through your body from your head down your spine and even to your arms and legs. For some people, the sensation just intensifies but doesn’t spread throughout the body. 

While ASMR produces a pleasurable feeling, it’s usually not a sexual thing. The ASMR experience is typically described as calming and soothing. While the pleasure response in the brain is most definitely involved, ASMR is not about getting turned on but more about your body falling into a deeply relaxed state. 

How does ASMR encourage relaxation?

There is still so much that we don’t yet understand about ASMR but since the term became a phenomenon on the internet and more awareness of ASMR became mainstream, scientists have begun to study its effects on the body. 

As a result, we do know that ASMR can soothe the nervous system and even promote sleep. Here are the three key ways ASMR can be beneficial, especially when it comes to relaxation:

ASMR can provide pain relief

Studies have found that when people who are in pain watch ASMR videos, they can find relief from that pain, sometimes lasting for several hours. While it may be true that the sensory experience of ASMR can provide distraction, it’s notable that the effects of the videos last long after the videos are over. ASMR can potentially turn on pleasure centers in the brain to the point that bodily pain becomes less potent. 

ASRM can lower stress

Many people watch ASMR content to relax. This makes sense, given recent findings that ASMR can lead to reduced heart rate. When people who are able to experience ASMR watch ASMR videos, their heart rate was found to be lower than people who don’t experience ASMR. The conclusion of this research is that this reduced heart rate might be similar to how the heart rate drops during sleep, pointing to the soothing benefits of being able to experience ASMR and how the sensation of “brain tingles” can help with insomnia and other sleep issues. 

ASMR can improve mood

Similar to the effect ASMR has on pain, watching something produced by an ASMR artist tends to produce feelings of well-being and contentment long after the videos have concluded. Even if no ASMR occurs, these videos can still boost your mood. More research is needed but the positive effect can potentially lead to reduced feelings of anxiety and depression simply by watching soothing content. 

Common ASMR triggers

ASMR experiences and triggers vary from person to person but they usually fall into one of two categories: repetitive tasks and personal attention. Task-related triggers include tapping, crunching paper or scratching sounds. Personal attention triggers typically feature some kind of role play, like someone getting their hair brushed.

Here are some of the most common ASMR triggers. If you’re interested in discovering if you can experience ASMR, you might want to start with these popular ASMR triggers and experiment with the feelings and sensations they produce. 

Tapping

Repetitive tapping is one of the most popular ASMR triggers. Typically these videos (or audio recordings) feature someone tapping their nails or fingers on various surfaces, from a glass table to a wood cutting board. 

Whispering

Whispering or blowing into a microphone is another common trigger. These sounds can help promote sleep, or at least deep relaxation. Certain words, particularly ones with the letters K, P and S, tend to be used because of the sounds they make.

Brushing sounds

These ASMR videos feature someone brushing various, well, brushes against the microphone. There’s even a trigger called “ear brushing” where someone uses makeup brushes to make sounds on the microphone, which can be very relaxing to listen to. 

Hair play

Haircuts and hair play themes are also popular ASMR triggers, including sounds like the whirring of a blowdryer. You might see a video of someone brushing another person’s hair, or their own hair, or even just running their fingers through their own or someone else’s hair. It makes sense: The feeling of having your hair brushed is typically pleasurable in real life so watching it happen triggers your brain to remember that sensation. 

Personal attention

In these videos, someone will make direct eye contact with the camera and speak in a relaxing tone. Sometimes these videos talk you through getting a facial or another relaxing treatment and the creator will put their hands near the camera lens to try to mimic the experience virtually.  

Crisp sounds

Using close-up shots of hands, these videos show someone crinkling paper or foil, crushing leaves or rolling gravel.  

Water sounds

Sounds of waterfalls, rivers and ocean waves have been long used in sound machines and meditation practices since they can help people relax and fall asleep. In ASMR videos, you might hear water droplets plinking or other repetitive water sounds to promote restfulness. 

Scratching

While this trigger isn’t for everyone—and can even have the opposite effect of relaxing ASMR—it’s still one of the most popular ones. Typically, you’ll see or hear someone scratching their nails along different surfaces, like a book, a basket or the microphone.

Chewing

Like scratching, this common trigger can turn some people off. (Many of us cannot stand the sound of other people chewing so, if that’s you, steer clear of these videos.) If you’re intrigued, however, these ASMR videos might feature people eating, or even sticky fingers touching the microphone to produce various tingling-inducing sounds. 

Finding your ASMR

Ready to find out if you can feel ASMR? Luckily, there is so much ASRM content to choose from these days as awareness of this sensory phenomenon continues to build. While some videos may not make you feel anything, you may find the one that gives you that telltale tingly sensation.

define asmr
(Kosamtu / Getty)

If nothing happens right away, don’t get discouraged. For some people, ASRM is instant. For others, it takes time to feel anything. At the very least, ASMR videos and audio are still very soothing and relaxing even if you don’t feel the full blown effects. If anything, by watching or listening to the various ASMR offerings, you’re taking part in a relatively new-to-mainstream human phenomenon. The more of us try it out, the more we’ll be able to understand about ASMR and its pleasure-inducing results. 

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