If you haven’t yet heard of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), well, things are about to get weird.
Defined as a “calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation”, ASMR occurs in response to certain stimuli and has also been likened to a ‘head orgasm’.
The stimuli that trigger ASMR vary from person to person, but some of the most common ones are said to include whispers, white noise, lip smacking, tapping on hard surfaces, brushing sounds and even the sound of someone eating. (Surely someone else’s worst nightmare, but hey, each to their own.)
According to one ASMR study from the department of psychology at the University of Sheffield in England, ASMR creates “tingling sensations in the crown of the head, in response to a range of audio-visual triggers such as whispering, tapping, and hand movements.”
The whole point of ASMR is to relax people and it’s big business on the internet.
Head to YouTube and search ‘ASMR’ and be prepared for an onslaught of videos, usually of women, doing things like running make up brushes over a microphone or even pretending to give you a massage. (Another trigger for ASMR is personal attention, such as when you’re at the hairdresser. Hence the popularity of ‘haircut’ videos.)
For Kayleigh Hughes, 27, of Austin, Texas, ASMR videos provide her with an additional means of coping with her migraines and anxiety.
“I originally started listening because I had migraines all the time, and it helped me manage those while waiting for medication or sleep to hit,” she said. “I quickly started using it to calm down when I was panicked and soon started using it as a sleep aid because my anxiety makes it hard for me to clear my head and fall asleep at night.”
ASMR may work for some, but Sarah Keedy, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, said there’s not much in the way of medical science that backs such claims yet.
“ASMR is a low-risk thing,” she said. “People perceive that it’s helping them relax, so what could be wrong with it? And that’s true because it is a reasonable means of treatment. However, if you’re truly suffering and you are trying to find appropriate help, you should ask for appropriate help. The internet and its availability of information can interfere with people’s judgment in asking experts for help.”
The first formal study of ASMR was published in 2015 and found, when it comes to triggers, there are four main types.
These were whispering (75 percent), personal attention (69 percent), crisp sounds (64 percent) and slow movements (53 percent).
In terms of why people seek out ASMR, an overwhelming number (98 percent) of study participants said they used it as an opportunity for relaxation, while 82 percent agreed they used ASMR to help them go to sleep.
Only five percent reported using ASMR media for sexual stimulation.
The study then went on to suggest that, much like meditation and mindfulness, ASMR could improve mood and pain symptoms and may even provide temporary relief for depression.
Whether ASMR will continue to grow and develop as a trend remains to be seen, but authors of the aforementioned study did conclude their research with the suggestion that “ASMR warrants further investigation as a potential therapeutic measure.”
Hmmm. Watch this space.
This article has been updated.