Learn / What Is ASMR?

What Is ASMR?

Grace Ogren
 May 29th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response.
  • It feels like warmth, or "tingles," on the head, back, and arms.
  • Not everyone experiences ASMR, but it can relax and comfort those who do.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a sensory response to specific audiovisual stimuli. Watching and listening to ASMR can cause relaxation1, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety. Physically, ASMR can create tingling sensations in the brain and down your back and arms, which is why the ASMR experience is often called “getting tingles.”

Not everyone will experience ASMR, as its effect varies from person to person. Some people will only respond to specific “triggers,” like tapping, and not other sounds or stimuli. You can even become desensitized to ASMR, often called “tingle immunity.” New sounds or stimuli can restore its effect. 

ASMR can improve sleep, mental focus, and general relaxation. It’s become increasingly popular as a study tool or holistic sleep method. ASMR creators–or ASMRtists–upload videos on social media, including TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to make their content easily accessible. Videos range from a few minutes to 10+ hours. 

The Science Behind ASMR

Emerging study results back the claims of ASMR fans who swear by its relaxing, comforting effects. 

Understanding the Physiological Response

One study on the effects of ASMR used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain activity. The results showed ASMR triggers can decrease heart rate and increase skin conductance levels, a measure of the body’s response to stimuli. This suggests ASMR elicits a reaction similar to comforting interpersonal attention, which can create an overall sense of well-being, relaxation, and happiness—supporting the experiences of ASMR fans.

Benefits of ASMR

ASMR was found to reduce symptoms of depression and insomnia2 by relieving stress and promoting comfort. ASMR also offers a sense of personal connection3 and friendliness between the ASMRtist and the viewer, especially as viewers narrow their preferred style of ASMR and find their favorite ASMRtists. Some creators make specific videos tailored to personal attention and comfort, like simulated make-up applications, reassuring conversations, and repeated words of affirmation. 

Non-personal attention can also comfort the viewer, like watching someone get their back scratched, their hair combed or receive a soothing spa treatment. This relaxed environment and the viewer’s ability to put themselves in the subject’s shoes can almost feel as comforting as receiving the treatment themselves. 

The overall effects of ASMR can improve sleep and promote relaxation, calmness, and comfort. Viewers with mental health challenges, acute stress, and sleeping disorders often find ASMR particularly beneficial as a non-pharmaceutical, at-home remedy for their symptoms.

Common ASMR Triggers

ASMR triggers usually fall into these categories: sound-focused, visual-focused, and an intentional blend of both. 

Sound-Focused Triggers

A sound-focused video features a close-up view of an ASMRtist’s hands and their microphone. You’ll watch them manipulate, scratch, and tap items to make certain sounds, either holding them by the mic or placing them on a flat surface. The focus isn’t on ASMRtist’s hands, body, or movements; rather, the sounds the item makes. Here are a few common sound triggers:

  • Tapping
  • Whispering
  • Brushing the mic or object with a soft brush
  • Scratching
  • Using an item to tap/touch another item
  • Any triggers done ear-to-ear (binaural stimulation) with a special head-shaped mic

Visual-Focused Triggers

Visual-focused videos center on movement, sometimes without any sound at all (besides gentle background music, potentially). For example, an ASMRtist may move their hands and fingers in repetitive, flowing movements to stimulate ASMR. Visual-focused ASMR could also include painting, simple crafts, and eye-tracking ‘games’ hosted by the ASMRtist. Makeup destruction is also popular, as is organizing and cleaning.

Blended Triggers

Many ASMRtists blend visual and sound-focused triggers for a more comprehensive experience. For example, they may use rhythmic hand movements to comb someone’s hair, touch or tap an object, or whisper into their mic as they spin and pulse their hands. Some viewers strongly prefer the combination of visual and audio triggers and find them more effective.

An ASMRtist using blended triggers may also quietly narrate what they’re doing to help the viewer focus and connect. This is often called ‘whispered’, as in ‘whispered back scratch ASMR’. Some viewers prefer this, some find it distracting. ASMRtists often specify ‘non-whispered’ or ‘no talking’ on their video titles to help those viewers find the best ASMR for them.

Tactile Triggers

Though less common and accessible, some ASMR fans enjoy tactile triggers best. These include in-person touch, like hair playing or skin touches, that cause ASMR. Soft scratching or touching down the back and arms can cause the sensations of ASMR and its same positive effects. 

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Experiencing ASMR

Knowing the benefits of ASMR, you may be more eager to experience it yourself. It’s okay if you don’t know where to begin—you can start in all sorts of ways. 

Finding Your ASMR Triggers

Start by watching ASMR videos. Try a variety, or begin with a compilation video of multiple (sometimes hundreds) of triggers in quick succession. This can help you find your preferences and discover new triggers even as a long-time ASMR fan. Your response to triggers should be immediate, so you’ll know right away what you prefer. Keep your mind open to new possibilities as you go, as what you like may surprise you.

You can peruse videos simply by typing ‘ASMR’ in the search bar on YouTube, which has longer videos. You can do the same on Tik Tok, Instagram, and other forms of social media to find snippets of longer videos. Once you know what kinds you like, your search could look like ‘slow tapping ASMR’, ‘back scratching ASMR’, or ‘unpredictable no talking ASMR’.

Many ASMRtists cater to deaf viewers or those with attention disorders. Read the title of each video or specify your search to find these types of videos. 

Creating an Ideal ASMR Environment

To get the benefits and effects of ASMR, your environment must align with rest and peace. For example, watching ASMR on a crowded subway likely won’t offer the same benefits as your environment would make it hard to stay focused and engaged with the content. 

Create a peaceful environment by dimming your lights, lighting a candle or incense, and getting comfortable. Ensure you won’t be disturbed by noises, people, or responsibilities. Your bedroom can be an ideal space to watch ASMR, especially for those who use it as part of their bedtime routine. Make yourself as comfortable as possible, and wear headphones if that gives you a better experience. Most ASMRtists recommend headphones for better sound quality and to experience binaural (ear-to-ear) audio.

ASMR for Relaxation and Sleep

ASMR can be highly effective in a sleep routine. Watching a video before bed can help you relax, process your day, and have a calmer mind before you shut your eyes with the intent to sleep.

To work ASMR into your nightly routine, start by watching a video every night. Set a timer for it to remind you, if needed. You could also pick out your videos for a whole week by saving them on YouTube. This can spare you the time and effort of picking a video each night, which can make it easier to integrate into your routine. 

If you have other nightly habits, like reading, you can watch ASMR after those activities. Try to do it right before you close your eyes to make sure your mind stays relaxed and calm as you shift into sleep. 

The ASMR Community 

ASMR has a large fanbase, especially as it continues to grow in popularity. YouTube hosts many ASMR videos and ASMRtists, as its long-form videos cater more to the length of ASMR videos. Many YouTube creators focus specifically on ASMR content and center on a niche, like tapping, back scratching, or organizing items. Some ASMRtists will show their face and talk to the camera during the video, commenting on the trigger, life updates, and more. ASMRtists like these can connect more personally with their audience and grow a unique following, though some viewers find conversation distracting and detracting from the experience.

ASMR fans often gravitate towards a handful of ASMRtists and join a community of others with the same preferences. Some ASMRtists have online groups for viewers to interact with them and other fans. You can even pay for specific ASMR videos that include your preferred triggers. Some fans also financially support their favorite ASMRtists with small monthly donations. 

The ASMR community as a whole provides a space of comfort and safety for many. ASMR’s focus on soothing, comforting, and healing touches every aspect of it, from its online communities to each unique video. Many ASMRtists with similar styles collaborate and create videos together, so you may see your favorites visit each other and make content.

Criticisms and Misconceptions of ASMR

Despite its growing popularity, ASMR faces skepticism. Some regard it as a sexual fetish due to the intimate nature of certain triggers, while others dismiss it as a pseudo-science4. However, for those who experience ASMR, it’s neither. It’s a personal, non-sexual, and subjective experience that varies person-to-person.

ASMR could also be seen as something only women can create and enjoy. But viewers and ASMRtists vary in all sorts of ways, from their age, race, gender, and sexuality. They live worldwide and represent unique cultures, languages, and demographics. 

Future of ASMR

ASMR could become even more of a buzzword and household practice in the coming years.

Research and Developments

As ASMR grows in popularity, more scientists and clinicians have begun publishing studies and reviewing its effects. This could broaden the medical community’s awareness of ASMR and make it more common practice to recommend it. For example, a particularly potent study could encourage doctors and mental health providers to recommend ASMR to their patients.

ASMR has been studied5 and likely will continue to be. As more studies and experiences reach the public, more people may try ASMR and incorporate it into their daily lives, similar to meditation and mindfulness. Apps and training courses now exist solely to help people meditate; the same could soon be true for ASMR.

Expanding ASMR Applications

Like other mindfulness practices, ASMR could be included in standard treatment plans for mental health conditions. For example, a therapy session could include watching an ASMR video to settle your mind before beginning. A therapist could also use it as a calming tool, similar to soothing music, during a session. 

Since ASMR can lower heart rates and improve mood5, it may become more mainstream in all types of treatment, from therapy to a calming pre-operation tool in the medical space. ASMR’s overall future and integration into the broad realm of healthcare seems promising.

ASMR’s Whispers of Hope

ASMR can be a highly beneficial tool for people with and without mental health conditions or sleep disorders. You can ask your friends and family if they watch ASMR and the types of benefits they feel. If you like ASMR, you’ll join a thriving community focused on comfort and healing. If you don’t, you’ll still have plenty of company. Try ASMR today to see how it can help you.

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