Does watching a video of someone eating a pickle or gently brushing their hair leave you feeling almost euphoric?
If so, you are not alone.
It’s called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – also known as the ‘brain tingles’ or ‘braingasms’ – and it’s become something of a phenomenom lately.
Just what is ASMR?
In a nutshell, ASMR is the very pleasurable and relaxing sensation that occurs when some of us listen to soft sounds such as whispers or finger tapping.
“It… is associated with a pleasant tingly feeling on the scalp and back of the neck,” explains Nick Davis, PhD, a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, UK.
This buzz may also travel down the spine, and can spread to the back, arms, and legs, he says.
Déjà vu is a similar brain sensation. And there’s a similar reaction in some people when they listen to music. I
f you get chills listening to music, there’s some evidence that your brain may be wired for stronger emotions and you may have stronger emotional intelligence.
People with ASMR report a boost in mood immediately, Davis says.
“It seems to last for several hours after watching the video.”
It’s different strokes for different folks when it comes to the sounds and visual cues that trigger brain tingles, but whispering, hair being played with or brushed, and soft talking seem to be top ASMR triggers.
“In a study, we found that people like low-pitched sounds and detailed activity, while people tended to find that background music made it harder to experience ASMR,” Davis says.
YouTube seems to be the place to go for an ASMR fix.
There are more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube.
Visit the site and type “ASMR” in the search bar and hundreds of videos will appear that feature tapping sounds, “sleep-inducing haircut,” cutting soap, paper crinkling, bag folding, page-turning, whispering, and more.
Some videos go on for more than three hours.
ASMR is not entirely new, but it has gained steam because of YouTube, says Hugh S. Manon, PhD, associate professor of Screen Studies and Director, Screen Studies program in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, at Clark University in the US.
“It is a uniquely digital phenomenon, as it requires one-way communication without distraction, although some group classes do exist,” says Manon.
“It’s a way of using digital technology to counteract the effects of digital technology,” namely it counteracts the desire to check and recheck our smartphones for texts, social media updates or even watch TV on demand.
“It’s fascinating because it is so strange,” he says.
ASMR for sounder sleep?
Most ASMR devotees say that they watch these videos before bedtime to relax and get a good night’s sleep, according to a 2015 study in PeerJ, the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences.
“ASMR helps [some] feel more relaxed, less stressed, or helps them to fall asleep. Another significant percent…like to experience ASMR just because they enjoy it, not because it helps them in any way,” says Craig Richard, PhD, founder of ASMR University and professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University’s School of Pharmacy in the US.
He is also the host of ASMR University Podcast and author of Brain Tingles.
“It’s the same reason that some people rely on white noise machines to destress and go to sleep,” says Judy Ho, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the US.
“It’s really about paying attention to sensory or auditory cues to distract yourself from negative thoughts or feelings.”
Some research shows that those who experience ASMR have significantly reduced heart rates while watching videos compared to people who do not experience ASMR. Stress is known to increase heart rate.
“Our studies show that ASMR videos do indeed have the relaxing effect anecdotally reported by experiencers—but only in people who experience the feeling,” says study author Giulia Poerio, PhD, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology in a news release.
In fact, the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings reported in PLOS One on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques, such as music and mindfulness.