ASMR is everywhere now. Simply do a quick search for the term on YouTube and you will find innumerable results. They range from anything to hair brushing, to gum chewing, and more. What used to be considered a cult phenomenon, relegated to the weird part of YouTube, is now mainstream.
Even W magazine has joined the bandwagon. They created a popular video series where celebrities toy around with tingle-inducing objects while sitting at sensitive microphones. While this may sound weird to some, each episode gets an average of a million views. Isn’t that astounding? Why is ASMR so popular?
To answer this question, we offer this simple summary…
ASMR is an acronym for autonomous sensory meridian response. It’s described as a pleasurable sensory phenomenon, usually a tingling sensation that starts on the top of the head and moves down the body. It feels like goosebumps but, without the creep factor.
The sensation is triggered by certain sounds, which one is dependent on the individual. These triggers can be anything from someone whispering to tapping on a box.
It’s so common now that popular household names, like IKEA, are joining in on the ASMR internet sensation. The company released an almost 30-minute commercial where are a woman speaks softly about dorm room furniture while tapping her nails on lamps and caressing shelving units. This video has well over 2 million views and is just one example of how prevalent the trend is.
Many who love ASMR credit their infatuation to Bob Ross. For those who aren’t aware, Mr Ross painted portraits on TV in the past. While this may not sound like something that most would watch, his refreshingly positive approach and gentle tone charmed many.
Just like meditation and other wellness strategies, ASMR is used to help relieve stress, combat anxiety, and fall asleep. While there are no clinical trials that test if ASMR can indeed remedy sleep deprivation, there are some that analyzed the sensation and its common triggers.
One of these studies, from Swansea University in the UK, did a comprehensive evaluation of the sensation. Findings were remarkably positive. It showed that the ASMR improved the symptoms of chronic pain and depression, if only temporarily, for users. Furthermore, the vast majority used ASMR to help them sleep (82%) and relieve stress (70%).
The study found the most common trigger was whispering, a whopping 75% of participants preferred this method. Coming in second was the category of crisp sounds, like tapping fingernails and crinkling paper. White noise, like laughing or vacuum cleaner sounds, were the least popular.
Interestingly enough, age played a factor in the study. Many users experienced the tingling sensation for the first time before they hit the age of ten. However, there were some who experienced it for the time when they were well into adulthood.
For the most part, the participants agreed that viewing ASMR was a largely positive experience, especially in terms of mood. In fact, there was a link (self-reported) between depression levels. That is, those who suffer from depression (whether moderate or severe) experienced a lessening of the intensity of their mood when compared to those with low or no depression. Still, all users reported overall improvement.
Chronic pain levels were also evaluated during this study. The researchers found that ASMR helped approximately 15% of participants manage their symptoms.
Studies on ASMR are rare. However, the one mentioned above shined some light on the phenomenon that is taking over the internet. Channels like MassageASMR and GentleWhispering have over 50 million total views. These self-proclaimed ASMRtists are taking advantage of this opportunity and building lucrative careers with this sensory experience.
Lily Whispers, a popular ASMR content creator (almost 250K subscribers) uploads a number of times a week and even has a talent manager. Her particular channel specializes in long videos, with a focus on personal attention, like quiet rambling and hair brushing. Other channels, like the aforementioned MassageASMR, have meditative videos and something called silent unboxings ie the slow opening of a new package. Another popular type of ASMR revolves around gameplay. It often focuses on slow-paced, relaxing games.
ASMR isn’t for everyone. Instead of feeling tingly, some find the videos (and their description) slightly creepy. But, for those it helps, it’s proven to have a largely positive effect. If you are interested in trying for yourself, go for it. You won’t know if it works for you until you try. Just remember to dim the lights, grab your favourite pair of headphones, and put yourself in a relaxing position for best results.