Michelle is completing a Masters of Advanced Journalism at UTS. Areas of interest include religion, spirituality and cultural diversity.
Videos designed to produce a relaxing tingling sensation known as ASMR to boost mood or induce sleep have proven a huge hit with a new generation tackling ways to reduce stress.
Standing for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response”, the term was coined in 2010 to describe a tingling that usually starts on the scalp and sometimes spreads down the neck to other parts of the body.
As awareness of ASMR is growing, “ASMRtists” who create original videos designed to trigger ASMR in viewers are flourishing on YouTube attracting millions of views.
Although sights, sounds and experiences that trigger ASMR vary from person to person – and some people don’t seem to experience ASMR at all – common triggers include whispering, crinkling or tapping sounds, and acts of personal attention such as receiving massages or haircuts.
In his co-authored 2015 study, Dr Nick Davis surveyed individuals who experience ASMR, finding most (98%) watched ASMR videos to relax, to help with sleep (82%) and cope with stress (70%), and the majority (80%) said ASMR positively impacted their mood. Some even used ASMR to provide temporary relief from depression and chronic pain.
Dr Davis’ research paper compares ASMR to practices like meditation and mindfulness, as people who dedicate time to experience ASMR often sit quietly, focusing on particular sights or sounds and the tingling sensation they induce. Yet Dr Davis is hesitant to propose ASMR has medical applications, suggesting ASMR is one of many “lifestyle changes” like exercise that can help people deal with “negative states” like pain or depression.
Dr Davis says little research has been conducted on ASMR because it has only been named recently and is often considered “weird”. Scientists don’t yet know what happens physically when someone experiences ASMR.
“We don’t really have a good handle on how being in that mind state creates what you perceive as physical sensations. We also don’t know whether the sensation that you feel is really happening on the scalp or if it’s in part of your brain that relates to your scalp.”
Yet Dr Davis believes ASMR is worthy of serious study because it’s a “very positive state” that can provide insight into how we experience sensations. Although it’s not yet known why certain things trigger ASMR in certain people, Dr Davis suspects ASMR is a non-sexual “state of intimate relaxation with somebody”.
Dr Davis also suspects most people experience ASMR but haven’t found what triggers it for them, or don’t know what it’s called or how to describe it to others.
Based in Costa Rica, Olivia runs her own YouTube channel, Olivia's Kissper ASMR which has over 270,000 followers and more than 77 million views. Olivia believes viewers benefit from ASMR videos not only because of the relaxing tingling sensation, but because they often incorporate personal attention. Her videos include acts like hair brushing, ear cleaning and role-plays of medical examinations.
Olivia says one of the most common misconceptions about ASMR is that it’s inherently sexual.
“So ASMR, the main point is that it really relaxes, that your arousal goes down. It has the potential to completely relax your body.”
“Most people know intimacy or closeness to people only through sex or violence and there is nothing else in between. So I feel like this is really changing the way we feel about intimacy, because a lot more people now really take ASMR as a normal thing.”
Olivia says creating ASMR videos is extremely time-consuming, with much effort required to test different triggers and research video topics. Yet she continues because of the positive feedback she gets from people suffering from insomnia, panic attacks, stress and anxiety.
“It’s the most rewarding experience in my life, mainly due to the comments from people and the messages they write… For me it’s part of my purpose, to make something good out of it… I think that it has a great potential for so many things.
And besides, I’m a super creative person. I just need to be creating something. I come up with so many ideas and this is such an amazing outlet for me… I love it. I can’t imagine not doing it now.”