Last updated on June 4, 2021.
Time to relax. Lie back, put on your headphones, close your eyes — what you are going to hear are the random sounds of hair brushing, whispering, finger tapping, scratching, humming… and they bring on a strangely pleasant sensation from head to toe.
In case you haven’t heard of it, ASMR is one of the most popular subgenres on YouTube, accounting for the third highest global search in 2020. ASMR videos are literally everywhere on the internet. At this point you may wonder, why have these random sound tapes become so popular online?
What does ASMR mean?
ASMR, also known as autonomous sensory meridian response, refers to the sensory experience elicited by auditory and visual triggers. The term typically describes the tingly feelings that travel inside the body in response to certain sounds and visuals. ASMR is a multi-sensory experience widely received by people who are stressed out as a short break for their brain. Many ASMR users even rely on the calming sounds to fall asleep on a regular basis.
ASMR artists often use role-play scenarios or binaural microphones to create ASMR audios that simulate close proximity to listeners. Common ASMR videos involve playing with slime, tapping nails on glass, whispering, chewing sounds, hair-brushing and soap cutting, etc. and the effect of each type differs across listeners. Before you plug in your headphones, here are 7 interesting facts about ASMR to blow your mind!
1. Not everyone experiences ASMR
While some people experience ASMR, some others don’t! One study examined the effects of ASMR and found that ASMR videos enhance the pleasant feelings only among ASMR experiencers, who also reported more feelings of excitement and calmness from ASMR videos than non-experiencers.
What’s more, people react differently to ASMR stimuli. In fact, the effects of ASMR stimuli are unique to each individual and everyone has different preferences for ASMR stimuli. That explains why you may be able to experience an incredible tingling sensation from whispering, but not from chewing sounds or the others.
2. Your personality determines your ASMR experience
Personality traits make a big difference in determining whether you are an ASMR experiencer or not. Recent research investigated the association between ASMR and the big-five personality traits and interestingly, participants who scored high in “openness-to-experience” and “neuroticism” are more likely to be ASMR-experiencers. The research also found that most ASMR experiencers score lower in “conscientiousness,” “extraversion” and “agreeableness” than ASMR non-experiencers.
3. ASMR may connect different brain regions
When you feel the tingling sensation from whispering and chewing sounds, your brain regions are actually connected with each other! A recent study compared the default mode network (DMN), namely a group of interconnected brain structures, between ASMR experiencers and non-experiencers. Surprisingly, the researchers found an increased level of connectivity between the brain regions in the occipital lobe, frontal lobe and temporal cortices among participants who can experience ASMR. This implies that brain regions responsible for different functions like vision, memory and hearing, are all connected when you listen to ASMR!
Researchers explained that these unique connections between multiple brain regions might contribute to the unusual but satisfying feelings we get when watching ASMR videos.
4. ASMR benefits your physical health
Do you know that ASMR can actually benefit your body? In one particular ASMR research published in 2018, researchers invited ASMR experiencers and non-experiencers to watch ASMR videos and compare their physiological responses. It was intriguing to the research team that the heart rate of ASMR experiencers significantly decreased, whereas skin conductance levels increased in exposure to ASMR videos
Reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance levels can promote relaxation and better sleep, ultimately benefit our physical health. Overall, researchers concluded that ASMR videos can incur pleasant feelings, but only in individuals who experience ASMR.
5. Your pupils dilate when you watch ASMR videos
You’ve probably heard that your pupils dilate when you have a crush — well, ASMR does the same thing! Taking one eye-tracking research in 2019 as an example, researchers asked ASMR experiencers and non-experiencers to view two ASMR clips. While they were watching the clips, researchers measured their pupil size using an eye tracker. Interestingly, both ASMR experiencers and non-experiencers showed a significant increase in pupil size.
While many studies pointed out that pupil dilation may be related to relaxation and calmness, it can be further expected that ASMR offers physical benefits. What’s more surprising is that even non-experiencers reported increased pupil size while watching ASMR videos. This might show that ASMR benefits you even when you cannot gain the tingling sensations from them!
6. ASMR improves your mental health
Not only does ASMR bring physical benefits, watching ASMR videos can improve our mental health as well. One ASMR research reported that up to 98% of ASMR participants agreed that ASMR helps them relax, and 70% of participants thought that ASMR can help them relieve stress. What’s more important is that the study revealed that people who suffered from moderate to severe depression benefited the most from ASMR videos and even reported feeling an improvement in their mood. Similar to depression, individuals with chronic pain also showed an improvement in their mental condition.
The researchers further explained that these positive outcomes of using ASMR videos may be due to the similarity between ASMR and mindfulness meditation. That’s why ASMR may have therapeutic usage for improving mood and relieving pain.
7. ASMR is associated with misophonia
If you identify yourself as an ASMR experiencer, you may also have misophonia, which is an extreme sensitivity to specific sounds. It may sound serious, but misophonia is actually a common condition. A research invited participants to complete 3 questionnaires indicating their likelihood of suffering from misophonia and found that ASMR experiencers reported a higher misophonia tendency than non-experiencers.
There is a linkage between ASMR and misophonia since ASMR is an extreme preference for certain sounds. In contrast, misophonia is an extreme dislike of particular sounds. That’s why ASMR experiencers may actually have misophonia too!
Can you listen to too much ASMR?
No, it is safe to listen to ASMR as there are no severe side effects of ASMR videos. However, listening to ASMR too frequently may develop “ASMR immunity”, meaning that you may not be able to experience the relaxed sensation like the first time you listen to ASMR.
Why is ASMR bad?
ASMR is generally beneficial for both your physical and psychological health. However, as ASMR usually requires earphones or headphones for a better experience, listening to ASMR with a very high volume can be detrimental to your hearing. Just control the volume.
Does ASMR release dopamine?
Current research on ASMR is still limited. So far, no study has found that ASMR videos trigger a release of dopamine or not. Nonetheless, past research suggested that music triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Based on the similarities between ASMR videos and music, it can be expected that ASMR may also lead to an increase in dopamine.