For me, the best part about getting a haircut isn’t my new hairstyle, it’s the haircut itself. Your stylist runs their hand through your hair and asks, “so, what are we going to do today?” I get an oddly enjoyable tingling sensation on the back of my neck every time. Others might get a similar feeling from a freshly poured fizzing drink, or maybe from watching just watching Bob Ross paint. That tingling sensation is known as “autonomous sensory meridian response,” or ASMR for short.
What is ASMR?
ASMR is a fancy term that describes a hard-to-define response. “ASMR” is most often associated with a tingling feeling on the back of the head and neck, which is accurate. But the meaning of ASMR is more than just tingling. ASMR also generally describes a sense of relaxation and calm. If you think that’s a bit vague, that’s because it is. The term “ASMR” was recently coined in 2010, so it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Accordingly, the science of what ASMR is, and what it isn’t, is still developing.
Unpacking the Meaning of ASMR
The meaning of ASMR is different for everyone that experiences it. However, ASMR responses generally can be split into two categories for “what you feel” and “how you feel.” ASMR University gives the following examples of what ASMR can be:
- Physical sensations (what you feel): light and pleasurable tingles, sparkles, fuzziness, or waves of relaxation in the head, neck, spine, and throughout the rest of the body.
- Psychological sensations (how you feel): deep and soothing feelings of relaxation, calmness, comfort, peacefulness, restfulness, or sleepiness.
In that sense, ASMR is somewhat of an umbrella term for a variety of enjoyable responses.
How do people experience ASMR?
People experience ASMR through “triggers,” which are stimulus that cause them to have an ASMR response. A trigger can be anything from hearing a certain sound, to physical touch, all the way to visual stimuli. A 2015 academic study reported that most common triggers include people speaking softly, getting one’s hair played with, whispering, close personal attention, and getting a haircut. Understandably then, some of the most common in-person situations most likely to trigger an ASMR response are haircuts, doctor visits, chiropractors, and massages.
Where ASMR gets a bit weirder is when we get to the on-demand world of YouTube. In these videos, video concepts are as diverse as the people who watch them. Some videos are simple compilation-like videos of popular triggers, where the artist will tap various objects and whisper into a camera for the duration of the video. In other videos, artists recreate in-person scenarios that can trigger an ASMR response. In these digital “roleplay” videos, artists frequently reenact haircuts, doctor visits, spas, and the like.
Where ASMR gets the most creative is where content creators weave in elements of storytelling and fantasy. Videos in this genre include anything from you being where you’re a futuristic robot being fixed by a mechanic, to you eating at the fictional restaurant from the popular cartoon Bob’s Burgers. Content creators know their audiences, and are constantly trying to create content that their viewers want.
Why do people watch ASMR videos?
For most people, ASMR is about relaxation. Much like many other forms of media, people watch ASMR videos to unwind from the day’s stress and “disconnect” for a few minutes.
Because of its relaxing effect, for many, ASMR is a nightly routine that helps them fall asleep. When you take a step back, this makes sense. A typical ASMR video mirrors many of the same things that parents do to help children fall asleep. Soft spoken voices, personal attention, and storytelling are all common features in ASMR videos. In that sense, ASMR is just the on-demand version of your parents tucking you into bed.
For others, ASMR is all about the relaxing “tingles” on the back of your neck. I know, the idea of a sound triggering a tingly physical response sounds a bit weird. But is it? Ever had your skin crawl when you heard nails on a chalkboard? Or maybe you get goosebumps listening to that song you loved growing up. Comparing ASMR to these responses, it’s suddenly less weird. ASMR is just the way-more-fun cousin of these experiences.
Lastly, another category of people watching ASMR is those who just find it satisfying to watch. Simply put, some sounds just “sound good,” and some things are just nice to look at. Love how calming the sound of rain can be? Or maybe the sound of turning the page on a new book? Think of an ASMR video as something like a highlight reel of those experiences.
Does ASMR actually have any benefits?
Take a spin through the comments on pretty much any ASMR video, and you’ll see hundreds of comments explaining how ASMR has helped them fall asleep, relax, or manage anxiety. But does ASMR actually help?
It may surprise you to hear that ASMR has scientifically proven benefits. A 2018 study found that “ASMR participants showed significantly greater reductions in heart rate after watching both ASMR videos compared to non-ASMR participants.” Another study even found that people experiencing ASMR had a temporary improvement of symptoms relating to depression and chronic pain. That’s pretty serious stuff.
Is ASMR sexual?
As ASMR makes its buzz through the media world, it is often referred to as a “brain orgasm.” While that term is good for click-bait, it misleads many to believe ASMR is a sexual experience. For most viewers, there’s nothing sexual about ASMR. Academic research confirms this. In 2015, Swansea University researchers “tested whether ASMR videos produced feelings of connectedness and sexual arousal,” concluding that “evidence suggests that ASMR is a non-sexual experience.”
However, that doesn’t mean that all ASMR isn’t sexual. There is NSFW ASMR out there (are you even surprised?). That being said, for the most part, the majority of the content on YouTube, Twitch, etc., is not overtly sexual. If you want to learn more about ASMR and whether it’s appropriate for kids, we suggest you take a look at our Comprehensive Parent’s Guide To ASMR.
Is ASMR the same for everyone?
No, ASMR is a highly personal experience. What triggers an ASMR response for one person might do absolutely nothing for another person. Even further complicating the matter is the fact that some people seem to be unable to experience ASMR, regardless of the trigger. Furthermore, given that the ASMR phenomenon is so new, science can’t really explain why our triggers are all so different, or why some people don’t experience ASMR at all.
Ok, so how do I try this ASMR thing?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We picked out two crowd favorites that we think will do the trick. But, before you dive in, here’s a few tips that might increase your chances of understanding what all the hype is about:
- Use headphones
- Find a quiet and relaxing place where you have some privacy
- Try to watch with an open mind and give it a minute or two
This first video by Gibi ASMR is probably more along the lines of what most people think of when they think of an ASMR video.
This second video might be a bit more familiar. It’s good old Bob Ross. Fun fact: Bob Ross is seen as something of an accidental pioneer of ASMR. There’s just something satisfying about his calm voice explaining the world of painting.
So, how did it go? Do you feel different? Hopefully, you’re feeling a bit more relaxed. Maybe even a little sleepy. If you are, congratulations, you just experienced ASMR.
But if it didn’t work for you, don’t worry—your ASMR journey doesn’t have to end here. Remember, ASMR is highly personal, and just because those two videos didn’t work doesn’t mean that you’re immune to ASMR. Maybe you just respond to different triggers. Go check out our curated list of 5 classic ASMR videos for people just starting to explore ASMR.