What Is ASMR ?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

ASMR – Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — refers to tingling sensations in various parts of the body that result from stimulation through touch or sound.

The other day, I came across a video online of someone cutting soap. Meaningless, right? Curious, I went ahead and clicked play and the video began. A pair of hands started slicing away at a harmless cake of soap, only to let all the slivers fall to the table below. This activity went on for quite a while, unchanging, but there was something strangely satisfying about it.

In a little while, I found myself dozing off, which I initially chalked up to extreme boredom, but as someone who doesn’t tend to sleep all that well, I was intrigued.

I decided to repeat this experiment, and got mixed results, not only with videos of soap, but other seemingly banal things as well. I watched a video of a guy washing his car, another of someone polishing a piece of metal, and even someone giving a speech in an auditorium. It made sense at the time; after all, students sleep in lecture halls all the time, right?

Many tired students sleeping in classroom with their heads on the table - Image( Robert Kneschke)s
Professors have a soothing voice that often lulls students to sleep (Photo Credit: Robert Kneschkes/Shutterstock)

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What Is ASMR?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. If one were to break this down even further, it is a type of involuntary response to some sort of stimulus.

What Does ASMR Mean

This means that some stimuli cause a response that is beyond human control. The response is meridian, meaning that it leads to an ever-increasing sense of pleasure that eventually ends in a climax.

The responses include ticklish sensations at the crown of one’s head, chills running down the spine, goosebumps, drowsiness or sometimes nothing at all, just peace and a clear mind.

Synapses in brain
Common ASMR responses include ticklish sensations in the brain (Photo Credit: Allan Ajifo / Wikimedia Commons)

Also Read: Why Do We Get Goosebumps When Listening To Beautiful Pieces Of Music?

Stimuli That Cause ASMR

There is no definite category of stimuli that elicits ASMR, but here are some of those that are most commonly found on YouTube:

  1. Whispering sounds made into the microphone
  2. Tapping and scratching noises
  3. Eating crunchy foods
  4. Soft consistent speech
  5. Turning pages

However, ASMR can also be experienced by other cues, such as touching, massages, amplified ambient noises like tricking water or the rustling of dry leaves. You’ll probably recognize the sensation if you are prone to getting goosebumps when a masseur touches your head for the first time during a massage.

Signature with a fountain pen( Billion Photos)s
Scratching sounds, such as those made by ink pen on paper can also trigger ASMR responses (Photo Credit : Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

Also Read: Why Does Scratching Your Back Feel So Good?

A Different Viewpoint

Why do people go to hill stations and quiet places for vacations?

Why is an evening spent on a sailboat in calm waters more relaxing than one spent at the dance club?

Why do people meditate only in absolute calm surroundings?

If you were to envision a Buddhist temple, what do you see? Bamboo fountains and cobblestone walkways or high-speed Internet, fast cars and elevators?

How many times do you normally take notice of leaves rustling? And even if you did, how long would you be able to do so without being uninterrupted by the sound of some vehicle, or a disgruntled human being shouting, or blaring music, or just the basic din of the city where you live? Chances are, you wouldn’t be able to hear it, or pay attention, for very long.

Quiet and peaceful places are the perfect backdrop for ASMR triggers to become more pronounced. In the humdrum of daily life, ASMR triggers can easily be drowned out.

When we seek out peaceful places, we intentionally run away from those persistent and loud sounds as a way to amplify the more subtle sounds that trigger pleasant sensations in our body, thereby relaxing it. Doesn’t this sound like ASMR?

Zen Garden at Kennin-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan - Image(cowardlion)s
Buddhist temples are often set in peaceful backdrops that unintentionally amplify ASMR triggers (Photo Credit: cowardlion/Shutterstock)

What Disrupts ASMR?

If ASMR is triggered by such vague and gentle things, you may wonder why you don’t experience it more frequently.

This is primarily because we’re surrounded by loud sounds. We are conditioned to harsh stimuli, such as loud music and honking, pushing and pulling on public transport, and glaring bright screens everywhere we look, amongst many other things.

An ASMR video is usually quite long, comprising subtle sounds that have been amplified so listeners can’t miss them. There is little to no background music, and narratives—if any—are spoken softly and clearly. Some ASMR artists go to the extent of presenting their content in yellow light, a feature that is purported to promote good sleeping patterns.

Stubborn annoyed woman sticking plug fingers in ears not listening to loud noise sound isolated on white blank studio background, young angry teen refuse hear avoid stress feel ear pain ache concept - Image
Loud sounds are unpleasant and destroy the impact of ASMR triggers (Photo Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock)

Not A Technical Term

Have you ever experienced a cringe, goosebumps and that funny feeling in your teeth when rubbing something on a surface results in screechy noises? That is one form of ASMR, but the experience is not pleasant at all.

ASMR is known by various other names, such as autonomous head euphoria or brain tingles.

Thus, ASMR is not a scientific term; in fact, the topic of ASMR was not studied extensively in the field of human physiology until as recently as 2010.

Benefits Of ASMR

Upon experimentation, it has been found that heart rates reduced by up to three beats per second and skin conductance improved in people who consumed ASMR content. Amongst other observed phenomena were increases in sociability, concentration levels and ease in falling asleep.

ASMR has been associated with relaxation and a reduction in stress levels, which potentially opens new avenues for medical research and solutions to long-standing health problems, including hypertension and insomnia.

If further studies in the field of ASMR show positive results, it could become a very feasible and easily accessible solution to problems that may otherwise lead people towards the extensive use of medication.

Sleepless and desperate beautiful caucasian woman awake at night not able to sleep, feeling frustrated and worried looking at clock suffering from insomnia in sleep disorder concept. - Image
ASMR could be a potential non-invasive solution to problems like hypertension and insomnia (Photo Credit: Sam Wordley/Shutterstock)

Let’s Try ASMR!

As stated previously, not every stimulus works on everyone. While some people may react well to ASMR practices, others may not feel anything at all. For starters, grab a pair of headphones and go ASMRing. You won’t know how good it can be until you try!

ASMR Videos:

Here are some of my personal favorites:

How well do you understand the article above!

Can you answer a few questions based on the article you just read?

References (click to expand)
  1. Poerio, G. L., Blakey, E., Hostler, T. J., & Veltri, T. (2018, June 20). More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. (J. E. Aspell, Ed.), Plos One. Public Library of Science (PLoS).
  2. Brain tingling sensation 'ASMR' may benefit health. Manchester Metropolitan University
  3. First study of its kind reveals physiological benefits of ASMR .... The University of Sheffield
  4. Car Cleaning Guru. http://www.youtube.com/user/CarCleaningGuru/videos
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About the Author

Prashant is a mechanical engineer and MBA from NMIMS University, Mumbai. An auto-fanatic with an insatiable need for speed, he is constantly on the look out for new technology in the field of automobiles. When he is not working, he loves to read, blog about cars, test the latest rides on the market and wash his own vehicles.