April 5, 2019
It’s a phenomenon that is trending on social media, but is rarely discussed elsewhere. Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is described by most who experience it as a tingling, warm, relaxing sensation that starts in your brain and spreads throughout your body. It is triggered by a variety of subtle stimuli, such as whispering or the sound of crinkling paper—and researchers are now finding that it may benefit both mental and physical health.
In the first study of its kind into the physiological underpinnings of ASMR, researchers from the UK’s University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University have found that people who experience the phenomenon have significantly reduced heart rates compared to those who do not.
And it truly is a phenomenon: Today, there are more than 13 million ASMR-triggering videos on YouTube—and they range in subject matter from medical examinations to haircuts and massages, to (strangely enough) towel-folding tutorials. Viewers say they watch the videos to relax, relieve stress, or sleep better.
Dr. Giulia Poerio, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, comments, “Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood and awareness of the sensation has risen dramatically over the past decade due to internet sites such as YouTube and Reddit.
She notes, “Our studies show that ASMR videos do, indeed, have the relaxing effect [that has been] anecdotally reported— but only in people who experience the feeling.”
In one experiment, for example, the researchers studied the physiological changes that occurred when participants watched two different ASMR videos and one control (non-ASMR) video in a laboratory setting. Half of those who took part in the study were recruited because they identified as experiencing ASMR, while the other half were recruited as age- and gender-matched controls who did not experience ASMR.
The results demonstrated that those who experience ASMR showed significantly greater reductions in their heart rates when watching ASMR videos (an average decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) compared to those who do not. They also showed significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.
Dr. Poerio remarked, “What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness.”
In another experiment, over 1,000 participants completed an online survey after watching a selection of ASMR and control (non-ASMR) video clips—stating how frequently they experienced ‘tingles’ and their emotional response to each video. Those who experience ASMR were also asked also answered questions about their common ASMR triggers and general experiences of ASMR.
Dr. Tom Hostler, a lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The online study found that people who get ASMR reported feeling both more excited and more calm, as well as less stressed and less sad after watching ASMR videos, compared to people who don’t get ASMR.
“It has been widely anecdotally reported that ASMR helps people to relax, but ours is the first published experiment to show these changes in emotion. We also showed that it wasn’t just watching videos in general that had this effect, as ASMR participants didn’t respond to the ‘control’ videos we showed them in the same way.”
The paper, “More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology” has been published in the journal, PLOS One
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