Wellness·3 min read

The Science Behind Why ASMR Is So Oddly Satisfying

Woman Brushing Microphone
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Pexels
Apr 19, 2022

The sound of a lighter flicking. A faucet dripping. A pen scrawling across a piece of paper. Millions of people have been zoning out and relaxing to these sounds. Finding videos of them on TikTok and YouTube. It’s called ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). And it refers to the nice tingling feeling you get when you hear specific sounds, aka triggers. 

ASMR has become increasingly popular over the last few years. In part, because it could potentially help with anxiety and stress, among other things. Curiosity, piqued. We looked into what it is, what it does to the body, and whether there are any negative side effects. So you can decide for yourself if you want to settle down with, say, someone whispering in your ear before bed. 

Where did ASMR come from?

Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity professional, spent years trying to name the pleasant but unusual feeling she experienced when watching certain videos. When nothing turned up, she coined one herself. But she figured “attention-induced head orgasm” wouldn’t quite stick. And went with “autonomous sensory meridian response.” That was back in 2010. Since then, the concept has taken off. 

So, what is ASMR all about? 

It’s when you feel a calming, prickling sensation in parts of your body after experiencing sensory stimulation — usually through sound or video. And what triggers that depends on your preferences. Because something that works for you might sound like nails on a chalkboard for someone else. 

You might find your zen in the sounds of someone lightly tapping or stroking a microphone. While someone else might prefer hearing the deep crunches of a person eating a giant pickle. Or the whooshing sounds of someone brushing their hair or tracing their skin with a feather. The feeling is similar to the “chills” or “frisson” you get when listening to music you love (cue: every Adele song) or seeing art that’s particularly beautiful. And you can get the sensation from watching an ASMR video or by experiencing the triggers in real life. 

How can ASMR help me physically and mentally? 

Studies show that ASMR could help reduce anxiety and depression. And other research has found that ASMR could help people fall asleep. Or unwind and feel comforted after a long day. And that likely comes from ASMR slowing down heart rate similar to the way listening to music or practicing mindfulness does. Both have been linked to mind and body benefits (see: lowering blood pressure, and reducing pain, fatigue, and anxiety). 

Are there any negative side effects of ASMR? 

For some people, ASMR might be somewhat related to misophonia. Aka the hatred of sound. That reaction can lead to feelings of anger or panic. And cause a faster heartbeat or muscle tightness. Misophonia can be set off by all sorts of sounds. So if you try exploring ASMR and find that it’s making you more uncomfortable than calm, it may be time to try something else.

theSkimm

ASMR might be a great way to settle in for the night or calm down from a particularly stressful moment. And while you can try creating the sensation on your own, there is no shortage of ASMR videos on TikTok and YouTube. Find what works for you. And enjoy.

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