ASMR: Is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response the Key to Stress Relief?

In recent years, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) became an underground “cult” mindfulness technique. Practitioners report feelings of blissful relaxation, meditation-like states, and flow. Some who suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression find it an effective technique to relieve their condition.

What is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response?

Some people report experiencing a tingling sensation across the scalp and back of the neck in response to specific audio and visual stimuli. Often they associate this sensation with feelings of relaxation and well-being. This phenomenon is referred to as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).

Different people find that different sounds and images stimulate the reponse. Common Triggers Include:

  • Listening to whispering
  • Receiving personal attention
  • Hearing crisp sounds like tapping fingernails, typing sounds,  metallic foil being folded, etc)
  • Watching slow movements
  • Watching repetitive movements
  • Listening to quiet repetitive sounds like typing or turning magazine pages
  • Cooking sounds

Many people experience the tingling sensation in their scalp, neck, and possibly along the spine in response to light touching such as when a cosmetologist styles hair. One notable aspect of ASMR is that individuals experience similar sensations in response to sounds or images that are personal triggers for them.

How Does Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Work?

The Smithsonian magazine reports that the study of ASMR is emerging so not much is known about the exact reasons and effects.

Some who observe and study ASMR believe that some people may experience enhanced wellbeing and relaxation because the triggers remind them of caring experiences such as being taken care of by a parent. This could be why personal attention from friends, family, nurses, flight attendants, and even cosmetologists inspire a similar response in many people.

For many people, certain sounds or images may inspire biochemical responses similar to feeling loved or cared for. Of course, at this point this is just conjecture on the part of ASMR researchers and enthusiasts. However, people report that ASMR helps relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.


Applications for ASMR

Communities throughout the web sprung up to explore the use and applications of ASMR. Reddit, YouTube and Soundcloud are just a few places where people share audio, visual, and video content intended to create an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

In 2015 researchers from the Department of Psychology at Swansea University conducted the first study focused on ASMR. They surveyed people who use AMS media to learn why they use it. Participants stated to what extent they agree or disagree with a range of statements:

  • 82% agreed that they used ASMR to make it easier to go to sleep
  • 70% reported they use ASMR to manage stress.
  • One misconception is that people frequently use ASMR for sexual stimulation. Yet, according to this study only 5% reported using ASMR media for sexual stimulation while  84% disagreed with that statement.

Some believe that AMSR provides much needed relief from conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

One participant who struggled with debilitating anxiety noted feeling unusually calm during a hair appointment. This individual sought out media to replicate that feeling and discovered  ASMR:

“I was totally amazed, I can only describe what I started feeling as an extremely relaxed trance like state, that I didn’t want to end, a little like how I have read perfect meditation should be but I never ever achieved.”

Another group of behavior professionals are also interested in further researching the field of ASMR. Some marketers and advertisers already include elements of ASMR in their audio and video advertising. For example, the restaurant chain Applebee’s produced a one-hour YouTube video featuring “Soothing Grill Sounds – Sizzling Meat.”

This isn’t the only major brand experimenting with ASMR. Sony, IKEA, Dove, Glenmorangie whisky, and Pepsi are also incorporating ASMR.

How Does Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Influence Biometrics?

“ASMR is said to be a lot like mindfulness since it allows the individual to focus only on the present moment, while being in a calm relaxed state.” according to graduate student researcher, Melina Delanghe who was a graduate student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels pursuing her Master’s Degree in psychology.

Her master’s thesis involved studying whether ASMR media alters Heart Rate Variability (HRV)response in subjects from their baseline. Her study population was small and consisted of mainly females. She found such variable results in her small study and told ASMR University that she hopes more researchers will investigate.

Since ASMR is newly emerging as a subject of academic studies, we need to wait for more data before asserting its influence on biometrics. However, it is also highly individual and many practitioners find it enhances their stress management. Use your Biostrap to see whether any relaxation or mindfulness technique improves your biometrics over time.

Sources and Resources:

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state

Emma L. Barratt and  Nick J. Davis Department of Psychology, Swansea University, Swansea, UK published in PeerJ

How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR By Libby Copeland published by Smithsonian Magazine.

Graduate student investigates the effects of ASMR videos on the heart rates of Highly Sensitive Persons, ASMR UNIVERSITY, The Art & Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

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