From the early 2010s, people have engaged in ASMR in one way or another. You are either the recipient of the videos or you are the one making the video. Minimal research has been done into ASMR as a medical concept. However, research done and comments from doctors show that ASMR has become an integral part of people’s ideas of relaxing and dealing with anxiety. A study done in 2015, for instance, and the first of its kind, reported that ASMR video viewers felt brain tingles in response to what they were watching. A study done in 2017 reported the same findings, showing that participants experienced similar tingles where the videos entailed whispering, spa role-plays, doctor role plays and hair brushing. Participants in this study gave reasons such as falling asleep, relaxing and reducing anxiety as explanation for why they watched ASMR videos.
Brain tingles have been compared to musical frisson, which are the spine chills one feels when they listen to music. The brain tingles induce a similar felling to the spine chills, which is pleasantness. ASMR has therefore been determined to mostly affect the regions of the brain that are associated with reward and emotional arousal. According to Dr. Craig Richard, a lecturer of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University and the founder of ASMR University, eye exams are known to trigger the feeling of brain tingles. He said that “It was the click, click, click of the machine, the doctor’s soft voice… Sometimes I lie and I say, ‘I don’t know, just keep clicking.”. Dr. Richard also explained that ASMR is triggered mostly when a kind and helpful person is giving calm, focused attention, whether they are a clinician, hairdresser, parent, teacher or partner.
At the very core of humanity is the need to be cared for. ASMR videos or other forms that ASMR takes meet this primal need in people that find comfort in soothing sounds. In the 2015 study, it was reported that the most common ASMR triggers that were self-reported were whispering (75%), which makes up majority of the videos uploaded on YouTube, personal attention (69%), as is the case with spa and doctor role plays by ASMRists, crisp sounds (64%) often characterised by slow chewing or scratching a surface and directing the sound into a microphone and slow movements (53%). Other forms of ASMR involve blowing, which mimic whispering and resemble a gentle wind, tapping which involves tapping nails on surfaces, page turning , which functions as repetitive sounds that trigger a feeling of relaxation, writing which, like petting, trigger a tingling sensation , crinkling of paper or plastic, buzzing which, if gentle enough, can result provoke a feeling of relaxation.
The list of sounds that trigger a pleasant feeling is endless. What remains constant is that sounds made in ASMR trigger the part of the brain that is associated with emotional arousal, relaxation, and to an extent, peace. ASMR is an important part of how people deal with the external “noise” and find peace in sounds that may be strange to others. As the studies show, ASMR has great effects on the stimuli in the brain. While there is no research into whether ASMR can be used as a form of therapy yet, one can see why ASMR is the new craze.