Imagine the sensation of someone you know running their fingernails lightly down your arm. Light touch chills or all over body tingles are the focus of the latest Internet trend, autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR. ASMR is shaping up to be Gen Z’s answer to handling stress. Videos are popping up everywhere promising stress relief. What is ASMR, and how can it work for you?
Watching an ASMR video for the first time is a weird experience, so viewing with an open mind is key. Instead of relying on touch to create a sensation of chills through your body, ASMR uses sound. Whispers, scraping noises, teeth clicks – nothing is off limits to try to create this effect.
First-time viewers describe feelings of absurdity and intrigue, as the videos often show close up shots of the person with their mouth, or other object meant to make noise, extremely close to a high-quality microphone perfect for picking up soft sounds.
If it seems too silly at first, close your eyes as you listen. Once immersed in the experience, one of two things will happen – nothing and you’ll feel like you wasted three minutes of your life, or you’ll be hooked like millions of others.
Where ASMR Comes From
ASMR is not entirely new, but the use of it as an online trend is. Prior to its popularity on the Internet, research uncovered that some people have a greater sensitivity to sounds. Not only are they more sensitive, but they may get a physical feeling from sounds as well.
ASMR is enjoyable to some because resulting chills and tingles are typically pleasurable. Synesthesia is the experience of having more than one sense triggering another in unexpected ways, such as seeing a color when you hear a word or tasting sour when looking at a circle. ASMR is similar in that you hear a sound and instantly get a physical sensation. The best way to compare is to think about the feeling you sometimes get when a singer hits a really high note and it sends chills down your body. That’s what viewers of ASMR are trying to capture. At first glance this may seem like an elaborate joke everyone else is in on, but you don’t get the punchline. But those watching ASMR videos have a goal in mind, they’re trying to relax and relieve stress.
What the Research is Saying
A 2018 study conducted at the University of Sheffield found that for some people, watching ASMR videos can, in fact, lead to a reduction in stress. People who experienced a sensation of “head tingles” and chills when exposed to ASMR videos felt more relaxed after the viewing.
There is the key difference between feelings brought on by ASMR versus more commonly experienced chills that you or I experience at random intervals throughout our lives. In a common scenario, getting the chills brings about a feeling of excitement. But in ASMR, these sensations cause greater relaxation.
ASMR can also be a sleep aid. But there’s a catch. ASMR appears to only work for people who have an exquisite sensitivity to sounds. If you do not, these types of videos may produce no feelings at all or have the opposite effect and cause a mild discomfort.
A clear takeaway in choosing to explore ASMR is that there is no risk in trying. Either you will hate it or love it. If you love it and can now count yourself in the number of people with autonomous sensory meridian response, consider incorporating a video or two into your weekly routine. It can be a quick 5–minute de-stress at the end of the day or a unique solution for those nights when you just can’t seem to fall asleep.
The weirdness of ASMR is also the beauty of it. It’s a good way to embrace the unusual and is something for when you want to relax but also not take yourself too seriously. For all that is out there online, ASMR is one of those positive surprises with no risks involved.
Thank you to GKIS intern, Chelsea Letham for helping us discover ASMR and untap its potentials. Finding ways to unwind is not always easy so taking advantage of what is at our disposal online is important. Would you like to share your experiences with ASMR or your opinions about what your read in our articles? Please comment below and “like” our GetKidsInternetSafe Facebook page so other parents can find us.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
PS. Want to try an ASMR video yourself? Chelsea recommends this one:
Roberts, N., Beath, A., & Boag, S. (2018). Autonomous sensory meridian response: Scale development and personality correlates. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice doi:10.1037/cns0000168
Poerio G. Could Insomnia Be Relieved with a YouTube Video? The Relaxation and Calm of ASMR. In: Callard F, Staines K, Wilkes J, editors. The Restless Compendium: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and Its Opposites. Basingstoke (UK): Palgrave Macmillan; 2016. Chapter 15. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK453209/ doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-45264-7_15
Poerio GL, Blakey E, Hostler TJ, Veltri T (2018) More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. PLoS ONE 13(6): e0196645. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196645
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