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What does ASMR do to your brain? The science behind the soothing ASMR brain tingle.

Published Jul 27, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024
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Imagine sitting in a quiet room and watching a video with your headphones on. The person on the screen is gently whispering in the microphone as she reads a book. Her whispers are combined with the sound of crisp turning of pages. Occasionally, you can hear the gently ticking of the clock behind her. Does this send a pleasant tingle down your spine? Or is this just noise for you? 

ASMR is a hugely popular trend in social media, with popular influencers creating ASMR content for their millions of followers. It is a sensory phenomenon and is widely enjoyed by people around the world. People love ASMR due to it being soothing and helping them relax. Some report that it puts them in a better mood and helps them sleep better. Some may even claim the benefits of ASMR for anxiety relief. Is there science behind this brain tingling experience or is it just another fad?

ASMR: What happens in your brain?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it is a response towards a sensory experience that some people find pleasant. The research behind this phenomenon is still on-going. It is compared to the phenomenon of musical chills, where some people feel chills/tingles when listening to a moving piece of music [1]. Brain scan studies show that ASMR activates the reward system, along with the brain area that promotes self-awareness and emotional responses [2]. This is a possible reason why ASMR feels so soothing. This response is highly individualised where some people might find intensified nature sounds like wind and crunching of leaves relaxing, while others may feel it to be ineffective. Even the kind of sounds people react to is personal. Personality characteristics can determine how you react to ASMR, being self-aware increases effect. As a mental experience, ASMR is linked to being present in the moment, also called mindfulness. Those who scored higher on mindfulness scores were more likely to experience ASMR’s positive sensations [3]. It is hypothesised that like mindfulness, ASMR requires openness to sensations and focused attention. Hence, it gives rise to feelings of relaxation, similar to mindfulness.

ASMR for a happier mood.

Those sensitive to ASMR watched a short ASMR video, which led to an increase in positive emotions after. They reported feeling more happiness and calm [4]. In another study of over 400 participants, 80% of those who experienced ASMR said it improved their mood [5]. This is partly associated with those receptive to ASMR mindfully engaging in sensations that are pleasant, which helps improve mood. Whispering, crisp sounds and repetitive movements were popular ASMR sounds that led to positive emotions. If ASMR has a lesser effect on you or you just prefer the quiet, there is an evidenced way to improve your happiness brain chemical, serotonin by taking its building block, 5-HTP. Upon intake, it is directly converted to serotonin, which puts you in a better mood. Try the 100mg 5-htp supplement, which is the smallest, most nutrient-dense tablet available. You can read more about it here.

ASMR to de-stress and relax.

98% of those who go for ASMR do so to relax [5]. In a study, ASMR was found to reduce heart rate, leading to feelings of calm, as experienced through music therapy [4]. But why is ASMR so relaxing? It’s positive effects through mindfulness can also contribute to the calming effect. This is because ASMR is watched under quiet conditions with complete focus on the experience, which can serve as a break from stressful situations. Another study found that ASMR activates areas of the brain that help improve stress regulation, leading to better stress management [6]. Another way to bring quick calm in your busy day is to take a nutrient from green tea, called L-theanine. It increases the relative concentration of your relaxing brain chemical, GABA, helping you feel calm without feeling drowsy. Try 250 mg L-theanine, naturally extracted from green tea (15-20 cups equivalent) from only £15.99. Additional 15% off your 1st order using code NEW15. 

ASMR for soothing sleep

Over 87% of participants viewed ASMR to help promote sleep [7]. Which raises the question of why does ASMR make me sleepy? ASMR activates brain areas associated with sleep [6]. Just like some people use sleep sounds to facilitate falling asleep, ASMR can work similarly. In addition, the relaxing features and pleasant distraction offered by ASMR adds to aiding sleep. 

ASMR definitely brings joy to those who enjoy it. Though its research is still in its infancy, it appears to be a safe, easy and accessible tool that can promote wellbeing. 

 

References

  1. Eid, C.M., Hamilton, C. and Greer, J.M.H. (2022). Untangling the tingle: Investigating the association between the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), neuroticism, and trait & state anxiety. PLOS ONE, 17(2)
  2. Lochte, B. C., Guillory, S. A., Richard, C. A. H., & Kelley, W. M. (2018). An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). BioImpacts : BI8(4), 295–304.
  3. Fredborg, B.K., Clark, J.M. and Smith, S.D. (2018). Mindfulness and autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). PeerJ, 6, p.e5414.
  4. Poerio, G. L., Blakey, E., Hostler, T. J., & Veltri, T. (2018). More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology. PloS one
  5. Barratt, E. L., & Davis, N. J. (2015). Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state. PeerJ3, e851.
  6. Sakurai, N., Ohno, K., Kasai, S., Nagasaka, K., Onishi, H., & Kodama, N. (2021). Induction of Relaxation by Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience15, 761621.
  7. Woods, N. and Turner-Cobb, J.M. (2023). ‘It’s like Taking a Sleeping Pill’: Student Experience of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) to Promote Health and Mental Wellbeing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,

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