A year and a half ago, ASMR Darling’s youtube video popped up on my youtube feed. Involving “triggers to help you sleep” I clicked on it, put my headphones on as instructed, and closed my eyes. What started off as softly whispered sentences morphed into sounds – makeup brushes on the mic, light tapping, etc. With time I realized that I was both much calmer than I had been and extremely drowsy.
Even after taking a regular dosage of the prescribed anti anxiety pill, I’d usually stay up churning over a multitude of thoughts. This wouldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried to shut my brain down. I found certain videos that made me drowsy quicker than others, and some that just didn’t work. Comments on ASMR Darling’s YouTube videos include “who else watched ASMR as a joke and is now addicted?,” and “I fell asleep and woke up to another video because i forgot to turn my auto-play off!”
ASMR: A DEEPER LOOK
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Coined by Jennifer Allen, the term is defined as “a sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck, and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being” Barratt & Davis (2015).
Most ASMR videos involve aspects of role play where the ASMRist (person creating ASMR) takes on the role of a carer. Such videos are replete with positive affirmations and soft monologues (eg. Ozley ASMR, Gibi ASMR). The underlying illusion is that the “viewer is placed in a position of “close proximity” to the ASMRist . ASMR videos might also depict other scenarios. These include grooming (eg. GentleWhispering, ) or medical examinations.
Certain ASMRists also turn their attention towards another subject (eg. itsblitzzz, SemideCoco). The sensation that people experience is very similar to the experience of synaesthesia which is the involuntary reaction of several sensory stimuli due to the stimulation of one sense. For example, tasting shapes or seeing numbers in color.
Synesthesia is a rare experience where one property of a stimulus evokes a second experience not associated with the first.Banissy, Jonas & Kadosh (2014)
Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences and admin of the website ASMR University, notes that ASMR videos are characterized by a “tranquil womb-like intimacy”. When ASMRists talk softly and gently through their microphones, coaxing viewers to sleep, surrounding them with personal attention and positive affirmations, it triggers in viewers the feeling of being loved and cared for. This is similar to how a parent cares for a child – gentle strokes, soft tones, and soothing words.
STUDIES ON ASMR VIDEOS AND IT’S RELATIONSHIP TO PHYSIOLOGY
In one of the first peer-reviewed studies on the phenomenon, participants reported feeling extreme tingles while watching ASMR . These tingles were at their strongest while watching videos with personal attention. Participants also confessed to watching such videos to relax, deal with stress and fall asleep. Participants with chronic pain also confessed to experiencing decreased symptoms after watching these videos.
Watching ASMR has shown a rise in positive emotional states, reduced heart rates, and increased skin conductance. These results were a part of a set of studies conducted by Poerio, Blakey, Hostler, & Veltri, (2018). Participants in their study showed increased calmness as a response to ASMR videos as opposed to control videos.
Lochte et. al. in a study examined the brain activation of subjects who were prone to experience tingles while listening to ASMR. This was done using the fMRI. Results showed that “subjects who experienced ASMR showed significant activation in regions associated with both reward (NAcc) and emotional arousal (dACC and Insula/IFG)” (Lochte et. al., 2018).
Tasha Bjelić describes ASMR as a form of “digital intimacy” (Bjelić, 2016). According to Bjelić, ASMR becomes a “coping mechanism within our digital, late-capitalist condition … a self-soothing device amidst populations without healthcare, abandoned by the ‘maternal’ (though imperfect) hand of the ‘welfare state’” (Bjelić, 2016).
There still exist many questions related t the phenomena that remain unanswered. The foremost being – why do only some people feel calmer or experience tingles?
Tony Ro, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the City University of New York Graduate Center suggests that “we should remain skeptical about ASMR until we are able to measure its automaticity, consistency, reliability, and underlying neural mechanisms much more carefully,”
References Barratt EL, Davis NJ. 2015. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ. 2015;3:e851. doi: 10.7717/peerj.851.
Banissy, Jonas & Kadosh (2014) Banissy MJ, Jonas C, Kadosh RC. Synesthesia: an introduction. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:e851. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01414.
Bjelić, Tasha. 2016. “Digital Care.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 26 (1): 101–104.doi:10.1080/0740770X.2016.1194008
Lochte BC, Guillory SA, Richard CAH, Kelley WM. 2018. An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). BioImpacts. 2018;8: 295–304. 10.15171/bi.2018.32
The author does not profess to be a medical expert and the information provided is for the purpose of awareness only, based on thorough research and personal experiences with anxiety. Do not use this website for treating or diagnosing any health conditions. Speak to a health professional before taking nutritional supplements, homeopathic or ayurvedic drugs, or over the counter allopathic drugs. Contact a professional if you experience abnormal problems with sleep and anxiety.