ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a sensation described as a pleasant tingling or static-like feeling, triggered by different acoustic and visual stimuli. The sensation begins around the brain and scalp and can move downwards to the neck and spine. It is characterised by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It’s not well understood as to why this sensation occurs.
You may have experienced ASMR before without even realising it. The sound of raindrops pattering on a leaf, having your hair combed, someone reading you a story…all these things could possibly trigger ASMR. It depends largely on the individual.
The nice thing about ASMR is how curiously pleasant it feels; it’s calming and makes you feel safe. This is why many people have taken to creating ASMR videos on YouTube. These videos are great for de-stressing and for falling asleep. Just as ocean waves or rainforest sounds are meant for relaxation, ASMR is used this way too, except ASMR actually triggers a response in your brain that sends pleasing tingles through your scalp and spine, intensifying the calmness you feel.
There are many things that can trigger the sensation of ASMR. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
Soft-spoken speech and whispering are very effective triggers. Many people make videos of themselves whispering, speaking softly or reading passages gently from a book. These videos come in different languages. Sometimes it’s nice to hear familiar words and understand what’s being said, and sometimes it’s nice to listen to a language that you don’t understand, just to hear the sound of someone’s voice.
These videos are made by the YouTuber speaking very closely to a microphone, so that you can hear the wisps of breath and speech sounds. In a study done on 475 subjects, 75% found that whispering was an effective trigger.
Here is a whisper video for sleep and relaxation.
Here is a whisper video in Korean, so you can see what the whispers sound like in a different language (assuming you don’t speak Korean, that is).
Tapping, Scratching, and other sounds
Another popular ASMR trigger is soft sounds, such as the tapping or scratching of fingernails on different surfaces, the flipping of pages or the crinkling of paper. Many videos are made showing an individual performing one or many of these actions next to a microphone, creating a gentle sound that triggers ASMR.
Here is a video of tapping and scratching.
Here is another video of tapping and scratching sounds. What’s nice about this video is that, as you will see, the tapping is done on a mannequin head, which adds the benefit of visual stimulus as well, allowing you to imagine that someone is gently massaging your head. As you see her hands touching the face, the temples, the forehead, you will almost feel the tingles focus on these regions, as if someone was gently brushing their fingertips on your face.
ASMR can be triggered when a person receives gentle, personal care. Many people on YouTube create “roleplay” videos mimicking these experiences, including being at the hairdresser’s, getting your makeup done, or getting your eyes checked at an optometrist’s. The service provider goes through the movements and talks quietly to the recipient. The soft, tender attention and care given in these situations triggers ASMR.
ASMR rooms are a smaller subset of ASMR, where YouTubers create the picture of a room intended to mimic a specific location or environment. There are pictures of windows with rain drizzling outside or cabins with roaring fireplaces. Many of these rooms recreate scenery or places from books or movies. For example, there are many Harry Potter themed ASMR rooms, such as the Gryffindor Common Room, a cozy room complete with squashy armchairs and a roaring fire that crackles and pops. Other sounds are added to these rooms as well, such as the sound of rain, thunder, or crickets chirping. These rooms are similar to white noise videos, but with the added bonus of some comforting scenery. These videos surround you with a mood and an ambiance that make you feel almost as if you’re inside the room.
ASMR can be listened to through speakers but is best enjoyed through headphones or earbuds. This is because the sounds are clearer and more concentrated though headphones, and because videos often move sound from one ear to the other. YouTubers who make ASMR videos often move their lips or the objects they are using from one side of the microphone to the other to create a binaural effect. It creates a stronger sensation to hear the quiet sounds moving from one ear to another and is comparable to binaural beats.
To read a bit more about headphones, you can check out this article about choosing the best headphones for binaural beats, or this Bose Quiet Comfort 25 headphone review.
Although there is no medical or scientific evidence behind the benefits of ASMR, many people find it does help them. It can be used to aid mild insomnia, anxiety, or simply as an enjoyable way to relax and destress if you’re feeling particularly worried about something. It gives you a positive feeling and helps you feel calm. It’s even a good thing to listen to if you’re doing homework; it gives a nice, ambient background noise that can help you concentrate.
The feeling of ASMR can be traced back to almost a century ago. We see a description of what seems like ASMR (although at the time it was not recognized as such) in the book Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf published in 1925. The passage describes a nursemaid speaking to her patient “deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound”.
ASMR became more widely recognized and has been growing in popularity since 2007, when a member of a website called “Steady Health” made a post about how she had had this feeling since childhood, like tracing fingers along the skin, stimulated by events such as “watching a puppet show” or “being read a story”.
It continues to grow in popularity as more and more YouTubers make ASMR videos. People are finding it an enjoyable way to relax and de-stress.
Although the concept may sound strange, I recommend giving it a try! It’s a unique sensation.