Turns out it may be beneficial to listen to complete strangers generate oddly satisfying sounds on the internet. Welcome to the world of ASMR, a peculiar psychological phenomenon that just might be your next obsession.
Autonomous sensory meridian response is an experience characterized by a tingling sensation that begins at the top of your scalp and travels down your spine. These short-lived tingles are said to create feelings of tranquility and euphoria. While there is no definitive reason it occurs, Dr. Craig Richard, a pharmaceutical scientist at the Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy, hypothesizes on his site, ASMR University, that ASMR is induced through stimuli that trigger the biological pathways of intrapersonal bonding, releasing serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. In other words, it’s a rush of all the feel-good chemicals at once — which explains why ASMR is often referred to as a “brain orgasm.”
These tingles are often felt as a result of a wide range of external stimuli, like a soothing voice, a gentle touch or exposure to a slow, precise or repetitive motion. For some, it could be hearing someone slowly flip through pages of a magazine. For me, it’s watching the Trader Joe’s cashier carefully pack my groceries.
“For people who do experience ASMR, there are a variety of stimuli that trigger it, and they are not the same for everyone.” Richard tells SheKnows. “It is similar to a group of people all liking a type of music, but not everyone liking the same artists, styles and subgenres.”
In the hopes of building a foundation of evidence to encourage scientific inquiry and research funding for this phenomenon, Richard founded ASMR University, the most comprehensive research project on ASMR to date, with over 25,000 participants. But because there is no known scientific method to measure this internal sensation, the available research is based entirely on self-reporting — and is therefore not super-conclusive, he notes.
Despite this lack of scientific support, an entire subculture surrounding ASMR has continued to grow astronomically; type in ‘ASMR’ on YouTube, and you’ll instantly get 12.7 million results.
YouTube “ASMRtist” Olivia Kissper, who has almost 300,000 subscribers, is just one of the thousands of individuals around the world working to simulate the sensory triggers of ASMR themselves. On her channel, Kissper experiments with a variety of relaxing audio-visual elements, like whispered messages, smooth brush strokes, and crinkling objects to bring the tingles to her audience.
“I feel that it’s not just about the sounds. It’s about the personal attention and providing pleasant intentions,” Kissper, who also makes role-play videos of interactions with hairstylists giving a slow and precise haircut or teachers providing a student with undivided attention, tells SheKnows.
While it all sounds a bit bizarre, these videos seem to actually help a ton of viewers around the world.
“There are not any health benefits of ASMR that have been confirmed by clinical studies yet,” Richard explains. “On the other hand, there are several published studies of people self-reporting that ASMR helps them to relax, de-stress and fall asleep as well as being helpful for conditions like anxiety, insomnia, depression and chronic pain.”
And Kissper’s subscribers confirm this. Kissper says that she has heard stories of subscribers who have curbed their addictions and gotten off of medications after watching her videos. She believes it has to do with the immense power of human connection and our unmet desire for this personal attention in what is an increasingly isolated society.
“Let’s say you feel alone. Initially, you would have to wait until you connect with someone, but with these ASMR channels, you can have easy access to these personal connections at any time,” Kissper says. “It’s a way to get something people are starved of — a connection and intimacy and closeness without any goal.”
For millions of people struggling emotionally around the world, ASMR videos are seen as free and effective treatment options waiting for them at the single click of a button. Is this the breakthrough cure for mental illness we’ve been waiting for!?
Well, not exactly.
“ASMR is like a medication,” Kissper explains. “It definitely helps with the symptoms of depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It’s OK to allow the content to make you feel better, but viewers need to address the problems themselves to see real change.”
So, go ahead, pop in your headphones and give the videos a shot. While these tingles might not be the answer to all your problems, they certainly won’t hurt.