Waking up in a cold sweat, I can feel my heart thumping beneath my chest as my breathing becomes rapid. The stress of the day has reached capacity and threatens full panic if I don’t calm my mind soon; a mind that’s running a mile a minute with the looming fear of the panic that quietly awaits to take over. I quickly grab my phone from beneath my pillow and find YouTube.
Typing in the soft sounds of raindrops I let the gentle pitter patter fill my ears, my mind focusing on nothing more than each drop of rain that falls. My breathing becomes steady again. My heart no longer tries to break free from my chest, but beats at its own pace. Relaxation and calm wash over me as the tingling sensation runs from the top of my head and down my spine. Just like that, I am sleeping once again and another panic attack has been avoided.
That tingling sensation that millions of people experience when exposed to certain repetitive, gentle and non-threatening triggers is a a real phenomena known as ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. You may have experienced it yourself as a kid when someone played with your hair or spelled words on your back and you had to guess what the words were. Maybe you noticed it when listening or watching someone turn the pages of a magazine or a book, or when you watch Bob Ross paint with slow hand movements and speaking softly.
Still a newly defined phenomena, ASMR has only started to trend within the last couple of years. Videos by “ASMR” artists eating noodles, whispering, and tapping on glass have proliferated, and people are using ASMR to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
“Take any random food or song and you will probably find that 20 percent of people LOVE it, 20 percent of people HATE it, and the rest are in the middle,” Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical science at Shenandoah university and author of “Brain Tingles” said in an email.
“This is the same for sounds like whispering, tapping, and mouth sounds; 20 percent get ASMR, 20 percent get misophonia, and the rest are in the middle.”
Lexie Lembo ‘21, finds herself somewhere in the middle when it comes to ASMR. It’s not something she looks for when trying to relax but she can understand the calming aspect it may have for some people.
“I will watch videos like Bob Ross to relax but watching videos on YouTube specifically made for ASMR I don’t watch,” Lembo said.
Why the sudden rise in popularity with millions of people watching these videos on YouTube? It’s become so popular that there was an ASMR commercial during the superbowl sponsored by Michelob Ultra. Richard has done research on the growing phenomena and says that it really comes down to the good feeling these sensory experiences provide. “ASMR is a good and somewhat subtle feeling,” Richard said. “It took until the internet came along to bring together the few people looking to chat about it on a website forum in 2007 where from there, it started to rapidly grow into a curiosity and then something helpful for relaxation and sleep,” Richard said.
On his website, Richard has a survey of over 25,000+ people those who experience ASMR.
While many enjoy the effects of ASMR, there are many that have the exact opposite response known as misophonia. While triggers such as mouth chewing or lip smacking relax people who respond to ASMR, the same sounds can cause agitation in people with misophonia.
Lucy Chin ‘21, “I don’t like mouth sounds or the eating videos, but I do like the sound of tires on a dirt road or calligraphy writing videos. I don’t get tingles, those just relax me so I can’t really say its ASMR.”
This type of response to both ASMR or misophonia, just seems to be human nature. Dr. Richards goes on to point out that “Preferences to food and music have been shown to be influenced by a mix of genetics, exposure, culture, and expectations– so ASMR triggers will probably be the same.”
According to an article recommended by Dr. David Boynton, chair of the psychology department at St. Michael’s College, specific regions in your brain work together when your brain is idling/lacking stimuli. These regions are known as the DMN, or default mode network. A few hypotheses suggest these regions work separately when using ASMR. “We can look at it as a difference in processing that not everyone has. As the article states it is nothing pathological, just brains functioning differently.” Boynton said.
Lexie Lembo doesn’t experience the tingly aspect of it. For her, it’s more just about relaxing while watching someone write or paint; something Lembo enjoys doing herself. “I can understand why people like it, but many of the triggers don’t relax me. I don’t like someone whispering my ear in the first place.”
For someone that doesn’t experience the tingles that ASMR can have, it makes it harder to understand the true feeling of relaxation from it. Without the tingles it just seems strange. However, for someone like me that is part of the 20 percent that gets ASMR, I can overlook the oddity and see a full night of sleep.
A couple videos if you’re interested in exploring ASMR:
The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Maria
“Gentle Whispering ASMR”
Soft Singing Covers- Billie Eillish Edition by Lauren “Frivolous Fox ASMR”
Reading by Candlelight by Emma
ASMR for People Who Don’t Get Tingles by