ASMR – WTF?
It’s the buzz word of the day, week, month and year. But what the heck is this experience that everyone from teens to pensioners is talking about? ASMR stands for Audio Sensory Meridian Response, and it’s a relatively new phenomenon. ASMR describes a feeling of pleasant tingling and relaxation that can sweep over an individual when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds. If you haven’t experienced this, and apparently not everyone can, you’ll be surprised to find out what “ASMRtists” (yes, they call themselves artists) are doing on these more than 13 million YouTube clips.
Most of the video or audio clips are of people use high-definition microphones. These super-mikes pick up every noise, whisper and finger tapping, hoping to stimulate an ASMR reaction. They are doing the most mundane, everyday things you could imagine like simple, quiet, calming things like folding towels, tapping fingernails, scratching, brushing hair, flipping magazine pages, brushing microphones and even eating. Sometimes, a person (most often a female, it seems) is whispering softly in the background, accentuating mouth noises and popping their consonants while repeating phrases or single words in soothing tones, such as “you’re appreciated” or “darling.”
Will ASMR work for me?
That’s a great question. You won’t know until you try it. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t work for everyone. I first heard about it through my teenage son, who uses ASMR as part of his nightly ritual to fall asleep. Being the good parent that I am (Ha! Ha!), I picked up his headset to hear what was making him fall asleep so quickly. Much to my surprise and concern, it was a soft female voice making a variety of soothing sounds. The next morning, I asked my son if he thought the female voice was sexy. His immediate response made me relax. “Good Lord, no, dad! She’s probably close to 30.” I was happy to hear that. Anyway, people who do experience it – and I’m one of the lucky ones – describe it as a blissful tingling that begins in the scalp and slowly makes its way through the body to the arms and legs and leads to relaxation and drowsiness. I found it to be incredibly relaxing and quite like the feelings I get when I listen to the gentle pitter-patter of rain on a roof or the comforting sound made by night trains “clicking” down the track.
How do you experience it?
Many of the audio/video clips can last for up to one hour, which affords those who find it difficult to fall asleep the luxury of watching or listening until they drift off. From what I understand, there are two ways to experience ASMR. You can experience the same thing through medication or through watching and/or listening to a clip. Why does ASMR work? Well, I’ve read a few explanations, but no one is really sure why. Some say the videos might remind you of your childhood, for example, your mother comforting you. Others say it’s the simple sounds, much like listening to the sound of meditation bells that also promote a sense of peace and calmness and gently ease you into a relaxed state. Whatever the case, ASMR somehow reaches your “triggers.” Different people have different triggers and experience them at varying intensities. Still, for many, it’s like having someone pay close attention to you – almost as in being groomed. I remember the relaxing sensation I experienced when visiting Egyptian barbers in the Sinai, who massaged my scalp, face and shoulders after shaving my head. I was in some sort of “la-la land” each time, experiencing what many characterize as a “brain tingle” or “brain orgasm.”
Research into ASMR
The first ASMR scientific studies were conducted in 2015. University of Sheffield researchers recently conducted a study of 1,002 participants to measure the physiological effects of ASMR on people. Guilia Poerio, Ph.D., MSc., one of the authors of the study, said: “I’m one of those people who have experienced ASMR for as long as I can remember. I wanted to provide an objective test for whether ASMR is a genuine, physiological experience. Hopefully, this will provide support for ASMR and get it into the public domain.”
Fear of Sharing Experiences
Some “tingleheads” are afraid to share their experiences. “There’s sometimes a lot of shame and guilt associated with the experience of ASMR,” said Poerio. “Some people feel guilty experiencing this kind of pleasure when they don’t know that it’s something that other people have experienced as well. However, as those who experience ASMR have long attested (and this most recent study confirmed), ASMR is not about sex. Something that I really do hope comes out of this research, as well as more widespread recognition of ASMR as an experience, is that people don’t have to feel like they have to hide [their ASMR experiences] or be ashamed of [them],” Poerio said. “I still see people who feel like that, and there’s no reason that they should. I hope knowing that they’re not alone is useful.”
After listening several times, I’m definitely a “tinglehead,” as members of the ASMR community are called. I love it! If you think you’re ready to try ASMR, here are some videos on the YouTube channel for you: Gibi ASMR, GentleWhispering, ASMR Darling, ASMR University and ASMRlab. “Start ASMRing!”