Despite there being over 13 million videos dedicated to ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) on YouTube and millions of people who swear by it, we are just now learning the results of the first official study for physiological benefits of ASMR.
So, what does this new research say? Are the millions of people using ASMR actually seeing mental and physical health benefits or are they just experiencing the placebo effect? Below, you’ll find the answer, as determined by University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University researchers.
What is ASMR?…
First, lets quickly review what ASMR is. It refers to a sensation some people experience as a response to certain sounds and sights, such as gentle hand movements, tapping, and whispering. The response is often described as “a warm, tingling and pleasant sensation” that starts at the crown of the head before spreading throughout the body. The “tingles” may be referred to as “brain tingles” or “brain orgasms” and are usually accompanied by a calm, relaxed feeling.
The ASMR videos on YouTube show mundane experiences, including someone getting a haircut, massage,or medical exam,as well as someone folding sheets. Viewers, then, watch, allowing them to relax, sleep better, or reduce their stress levels.
What Researchers Found…
In the past, researchers have evaluated experiences similar to ASMR, such as chills and awe induced by music, they have shied away from ASMR. Not anymore.
After studying around 1,000 participants as they watched ASMR videos, researchers found that individuals who report experiencing this phenomenon have a “significantly” reduced heart rate when compared to people who do not experience it.
Why Has ASMR Gone Unnoticed?…
ASMR first caught the scientific community’s attention in 2007, when it was still a burgeoning internet phenomenon.
However, according to the Dr. Giulia Poerio of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, ”Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood.”
Through social media and popular internet sites, such as Reddit and YouTube, others’ awareness of these sensation has grown, prompting the scientific community to take notice, particularly in regards to the physiologic changes ASMR is said to produce.
Dr. Poerio continued, “However, ASMR has gone virtually unnoticed in scientific research which is why we wanted to examine whether watching ASMR videos reliably produces feelings of relaxation and accompanying changes in the body – such as decreased heart rate.”
The First Experiment…
University of Sheffield’s researchers decided to evaluate whether or not ASMR was a physiologically-rooted and reliable experience that could have mental and physical health benefits.
One part of the study focused on any physiological changes that occurred when ASMR videos were watched. Participants were placed in a lab, where they were divided into two groups. One group watched two different ASMR videos, while the second (control) group watched a non-ASMR video. Half of the participants had been approached because they reported previously experiencing ASMR. The other half had not experienced ASMR, but matched the age and sex of the first group.
The study determined that participants who experienced ASMR displayed heart rates that were significantly lower when watching ASMR videos. The average heart rate was lower by 3.14 beats per minute. At the same time, these participants displayed a substantial improvement in positive emotions, including feelings of social connection and relaxation.
Dr Poerio reports, “Our studies show that ASMR videos do indeed have the relaxing effect anecdotally reported by experiencers – but only in people who experience the feeling. This was reflected in ASMR participants’ self-reported feelings and objective reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants. What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness.“
The Second Experiment…
A separate aspect of the study, conducted by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, involved more than 1,000 participants who were asked to complete an online survey after viewing an array of control (non-ASMR) and ASMR video segments. The survey focused on whether “tingles” were experienced, as well as the participants’ emotional response to the individual video segments. Participants who experienced ASMR were questioned about their general experiences with ASMR and any common triggers.
University Lecturer, Dr Tom Hostler, said of the experiment, “The online study found that people who get ASMR reported feeling both more excited and more calm, as well as less stressed and less sad after watching ASMR videos, compared to people who don’t get ASMR.”
He continued by saying,“It has been widely anecdotally reported that ASMR helps people to relax, but ours is the first published experiment to show these changes in emotion. We also showed that it wasn’t just watching videos in general that had this effect, as ASMR participants didn’t respond to the ‘control’ videos we showed them in the same way.”