If you like listening to the sound of a fizzing drink, eating, or Bob Ross’s soothing voice on The Joy of Painting, you might have autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). ASMR is defined as a culmination of light, pleasurable sensations emulsified in feelings of relaxation that are triggered through physical (what you feel) and psychological (how you feel) sensations.
What does that mean? Basically, people find physical or emotional pleasure from hearing specific sounds. There are multiple triggering sensations that initiate these sensory responses, and kids elicit them by curating videos on YouTube to draw out these feelings that they equate with comfort and tranquility.
“Research studies have shown that watching ASMR videos can lower your heart rate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system,” says Dr. Craig Richard, who helped legitimize ASMR by founding ASMRUniversity.com and co-writing Brain Tingles, a guide to ASMR practices that reduce stress and promote sleep.
Richard and his co-authors published an fMRI study that showed specific areas of the brain are activated while watching ASMR videos. He tells Parentology, “These brain regions are usually activated during other soothing behaviors and have been shown to involve neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. The comfort and relaxation are likely due to increased levels of endorphins and especially oxytocin.”
These neurotransmitters are:
- endorphins: induce relaxation, sleepiness, and pleasure as well as reduce pain
- dopamine: provides a powerful stimulus for desire and focus
- oxytocin: usually called the “love” hormone and aids in social bonding
Other brain chemicals that have been found to light up in fMRI studies include:
- serotonin: increases happiness and satisfaction
- GABA: stimulates relaxation and sleepiness
- melatonin: the initiator of quality sleep
What Are People Watching?
Whispering, scratching, tapping, blowing, page-turning, hair playing – even eating. Typing “ASMR” into YouTube delivers thousands of videos that display thousands of videos with a global reach of up to 13 million views.
Not everyone watches videos to enjoy ASMR sensations. Other methods include paying a visit to a masseuse or hair-dresser, which can elicit these feelings of relaxation and reduce copious amounts of stress.
“Youth have many sources of stress, including school, relationships, and additional expectations,” Richard says. “This stress can further make falling asleep at night more difficult. ASMR videos and podcasts can be helpful to youth for decreasing their stress and sleeplessness.”
In PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, an article entitled “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state,” from authors Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis report similar findings. They analyzed a study conducted by the Department of Psychology at Swansea University, which concluded that there are many benefits to the ASMR phenomena.
Out of 475 participants in the study, many reported positive experiences with ASMR. Their results demonstrated that of the 70 participants who scored moderate to severe on the Beck Depression Inventory, 69% reported using ASMR to ease their symptoms of depression. Those who reported having chronic pain claimed ASMR improved their symptoms.
While encouraging, more studies with a larger subject base are needed before making definitive conclusions.