ASMR: Explained and Experienced

Photo by Kylee Bateman

For some, hot herbal tea, the sweet, slow sound of the ocean crashing against the bay, or just a moment of silence pave the route to relaxation. For others, though, it’s the tapping of nails on a table, the subtle, gentle movements of hair being tossed, or a soft whisper that leaves your spine tingling. This modern method of meditation is ASMR.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which arose as a trend in October 2007, is a practice that involves hearing the most unexpected sounds at the softest tones. Participants on a discussion board on SteadyHealth Forums say the videos make them feel tingles from the top of their heads. They even refer to ASMR as an “attention induced head orgasm.”

So how can small, trivial things like hair combing and tapping nails on a table lead to a relaxed state? According to a 2015 study by psychologists Emma Barratt and Nick Davis, five specific sounds trigger the sensations experienced by audiences of ASMR videos: close personal attention, crisp sounds, vacuum noises, airplane noises, laughing, and smiling. (Yeah, smiling makes a sound—try it for yourself.)

The study also suggests that “ASMR may be of use for providing temporary relief to individuals with depression, stress, and chronic pain.” Ninety-eight percent of the participants agreed that ASMR is an opportunity for relaxation and has been proven to relieve stress.

By promoting a relaxing and mellow environment, many people are attracted to these types of videos and use the trend as an outlet.

Because of this, the interest for ASMR has continued to grow in the last five years. The most popular ASMR video creator on YouTube, with over 700,000 subscribers and an average of 1 million views per video, GentleWhispering brings her soft, soothing voice to the microphone.

She and others like her utilize the five triggers identified by Barratt and Davis to evoke the most powerful sensations. They also use binaural microphones, which heighten the quality and frequency of the sounds produced, allowing the listener to hear each and every sound.

Tips for getting the most out of ASMR:
  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Find a quiet, comfortable location.
  • Make the video full screen.
  • Eliminate distractions. (Snapchat will still be there when you’re done.)