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Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)

What is ASMR?


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Todd L Ross
July 17, 2019 8:30PM

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it’s a phenomenon some people experience when exposed to certain auditory/visual stimuli. To put that in plain English, it’s a relaxing, tingling feeling that occurs when you watch certain videos or listen to certain sounds.

In the YouTube era, ASMR has exploded in popularity. Creators make videos designed with various “triggers" intended to give people the sensation—and some of those videos have tens of millions of views.

These videos vary considerably in their content, since ASMR-sensitive people have different types of triggers. Some show women brushing on makeup or tapping on bottles. Some show people cutting hair, crinkling up newspapers, eating fried foods, or whispering into microphones. To the uninitiated, they appear...strange.

Viewers often watch these videos with headphones, which help to amplify the sensation of being up-close-and-personal with the source of the sounds.

Of course, some people aren’t sensitive to ASMR. To those folks, ASMR videos might seem vaguely disturbing or off-putting. Some assume the videos have a sexual component, but according to one study, only 5 percent of ASMR viewers say they watch the videos for, ahem, romantic reasons.

So, does ASMR really help people? Until recently, there wasn’t much scientific evidence to support the therapeutic use of ASMR. The term itself was invented by Jennifer Allen, a non-scientist who simply wanted to create a name for the sensation, and the phenomenon was largely ignored until the 2010s.

The aforementioned ASMR study was the first of its kind and was performed by researchers at Swansea University in Wales. It showed that the phenomenon has a range of possible benefits: Consumers of ASMR media say they have less stress and anxiety when viewing the videos. Many report sleep improvements, and some even say ASMR helps them deal with chronic pain.

Here’s how one participant described his experience after finding ASMR media:

“I was totally amazed. I can only describe what I started feeling as an extremely relaxed trance-like state that I didn’t want to end, a little like how I have read perfect meditation should be but I [have] never ever achieved.”

A separate ASMR researcher told NBC News that about 20 percent of people experience it strongly, while another 40 percent have a milder response. Some scientists believe ASMR could eventually become a regular treatment for certain psychological conditions.

With that said, there’s not too much science on the phenomenon at this point. If you enjoy ASMR videos, go ahead and watch them; they’re certainly not doing any harm (although the sensation may go away for a while if you watch too many videos in one sitting). If they’re not your thing, however, don’t worry—they’re clearly not for everyone.