Is ASMR good for you?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has become an increasingly popular practice and experience since it first became popular. Even if you’re not an avid ASMR follower, you may have heard of or seen many of the popular ASMR YouTube videos on your homepage – each with views that easily range in the millions. People watch and feel drawn to these videos for a variety of reasons, whether this be to help them reduce stress, to go to sleep, to feel relaxed or even to feel amused. However, not everyone seems to gain the same sense of gratification from these videos. In fact, some people have stated that the sounds make them feel more irritated than calm. In the end, the question to ask is: does ASMR really help your brain and body?

Little do people know, ASMR has actually had little to no scientific basis behind it up until recently. The phenomenon, also known as autonomous sensory meridian response, sounds scientific, but the term was coined simply to bestow a name to the experience for people to discuss it. People have described the experience as tingling sensations in some parts of their bodies, usually in the head or neck areas. These feelings are then associated with relaxation, comfort, calmness and other general feelings of happiness. Three categories of triggers are responsible for inducing these bodily responses: tactile, visual, and auditory. The tactile stimuli category includes but isn’t limited to light touching, massages and grooming. The visual category then includes gazing, observing and more popularly, hand movements. Finally, auditory stimuli, the most popular one these days, includes a broad range of vocal and object sounds.

Recent research has begun to show that ASMR may be a viable method for treating psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other forms of paranoia. 2018 studies by Lochte et al. and Poerio et al. show how ASMR videos activate specific brain regions, decrease heart rate, and increase skin conductance. Furthermore, a study by Barrat et al. 2015 has even demonstrated how 42% of participants with chronic pain believed that ASMR had an effect on their symptoms. Emma Barrat points out that the ASMR phenomenon may be closely linked to conditions of flow state and synesthesia. People in a state of flow experience heightened focus during tasks. On the other hand, synesthesia is when people associate one form of sensory input, such as color, to another kind, like taste. Such conditions were found to be the case in about 5.9% of surveyed participants in the study.

Other theories such as those proposed by Ahuja (2013) suggest that ASMR is similar to the physical contact people experience through grooming and maternal care. The acts and motions in ASMR then produce feelings of intimacy in the viewer, inducing relaxation responses. From an evolutionary standpoint, viewers feel protected and are thus able to settle into a comfortable mind state, away from the stresses of danger. Psychiatrist, Michael Yasinski even states that ASMR goes as far as shutting down sections of the brain that are critical for stress and anxiety. However, ultimately the present research is limited in its inability to answer why people experience ASMR. Much of it relies heavily on self-reported data from ASMR enthusiasts and not enough has been proven in neurological/biological areas.

So, is ASMR good for you? That is still a difficult question to answer, but the innovative and rising research is suggesting a bright future for ASMR’s potential. While data may be self-reported, the vast number of people feeling more relaxed and getting sleep from the effects of ASMR can’t be just  ignored. ASMR seems to appear greatly psychological at this point, but it may just represent the psychological comfort you’re looking for if you’ve also felt stressed or have been losing sleep in the past days.


Sherry Chow