ASMR is a wildly popular media trend that uses various stimuli to produce a tingling sensation in the brain and promote relaxation.

Visual ASMR brain tingles can be felt looking at this macro image of flower petals.Share on Pinterest
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If you’ve ever had “the tingles” and felt mildly euphoric as a result you may have experienced ASMR.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), known as “brain tingles, ”sometimes “brain orgasm,” or “braingasm,” is a term used to describe a tingling, calming sensation that some people experience in response to certain audio, visual, or tactile stimuli.

ASMR can be “triggered” by stimuli like faint whispering or gentle repetitive movements to promote a state of relaxation. Common ASMR triggers may include:

  • sound
  • visual stimulus
  • physical touch
  • situations

Not everyone experiences ASMR. Research from 2022 shows that individuals with anxiety and other neuroses may be more likely to experience ASMR than those without.

The ASMR experience is often described as a blissful tingling sensation that begins at the crown of the head and travels down the spine and limbs. It can be accompanied by deep relaxation and drowsiness.

When a noise has an unpleasant effect

Some noises (breathing, chewing, tapping) can trigger an unpleasant emotional response in some individuals. This is a condition known as misophonia. If you think you may be sensitive to sound, you may want to approach ASMR with caution.

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Audio ASMR is often distinguished by very faint whispering in high-powered binaural microphones that can transmit isolated sound to the listener’s left and right ears separately.

There are countless ASMR YouTubers.

Proponents of ASMR claim that ASMR triggers produce a number of benefits, including:

  • relaxation
  • reduced anxiety
  • lowered heart rate
  • improved sleep
  • improved attention

What the research shows

Despite its popularity and fan base, research on ASMR is somewhat sparse, and at times, contradictory.

For instance, a 2018 study looked at the underlying mechanisms of ASMR and was unable to conclude why some people experience “the tingles.”

Other research has shown that ASMR may produce a blissful, flow-like state in “susceptible individuals” through repeated exposure.

“When this happens, a series of neurochemicals are released, such as anandamide — which is sometimes called the ‘bliss’ chemical — in addition to more familiar neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine,” explains Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist, author, and podcast host.

“[This] may possibly help us feel more calm, relaxed, and less anxious.”

According to Leaf, the release of these blissful chemicals is linked to an increase in theta wave activity in the brain. She explains the resulting euphoric state is similar to a flow state or “being in the zone.”

“Theta activity is often referred to as a ‘healing wave,’ and appears to activate the mind and body’s natural resilience and optimize self-healing, helping that person manage their anxiety in the moment,” Leaf says.

A simple internet search will show there are seemingly infinite types of ASMR. Some of the most common ASMR triggers include:

  • whispering
  • blowing
  • crinkling
  • chewing
  • humming
  • scratching
  • tapping
  • page-turning
  • writing
  • typing
  • drinking

Audio ASMR

Audio ASMR is perhaps the most popular and beloved way to trigger the tingles, especially on YouTube.

Tingting ASMR, a well-known ASMR YouTuber based in Seoul, South Korea, has been making ASMR videos since 2017. Currently, she has over 2 million subscribers.

She says that watching ASMR videos helped her relax, so she began creating her own videos to give back to the ASMR “whisper community.”

Tingting uses props ranging from makeup brushes to scalp-check tools to shampoo to create gentle audio ASMR experiences for her followers.

Though Tingting’s videos are visually engaging, audio ASMR is triggered by the different sounds created by her props and optimized with high quality microphones. Many of her videos feature hair or wigs in some capacity.

“I think my viewers really enjoy my accent and some of my added cultural knowledge in my videos,” Tingting says. “I get requests for more hair-related and cultural videos a lot.”

Tingting adds that she thinks ASMR can be beneficial for mental health.

“It’s a great way to relax and release your stress from the day,” she says. “To me, it’s kind of like meditation where you can let your mind wander, which is very hard to do with so much technology and notifications constantly interrupting your peace.”

Visual ASMR

If certain sounds don’t soothe your mind, you could try ASMR exercises that focus on visual triggers.

Tokyo-based ONESAL offers visual ASMR in the format of nature-inspired sculptural formations. The award-winning company triggers ASMR with various textural and tactile elements that morph and interact with each other in a surrealist fashion.

According to its website, ONESAL’s short ASMR films “blur the boundaries between nature and design, simplicity and complexity, in an abstract uncompromised way.”

Tactile ASMR

Tactile ASMR occurs between two people.

You can experience tactile ASMR in person through anything from physical touch to tickling with feathers or lightly drawing your fingernails across someone’s back.

While tactile ASMR is typically experienced in person, in some cases, watching a video of two people engaging in tactile ASMR activities could potentially trigger the tingles.

For example, watching a video of someone receiving a massage could be tactile ASMR.

Is ASMR good for anxiety?

Preliminary research has shown that ASMR can lower heart rate, which may offer relief from anxiety.

“Elevated heart rate is one way our body (physiologically) manifests our (psychological) experience of anxiety or panic,” explains Dr. Paul Poulakos, a board certified psychiatrist in New York City.

“By lowering heart rate, it’s possible that ASMR sends a reverse feedback loop to the brain, resulting in the overall experience of less anxiety.”

Is ASMR a form of mindfulness?

Research from 2018 supports the theory that ASMR is related to mindfulness.

Subjects who watched or listened to ASMR generated higher scores on the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS), a questionnaire that measures the attentional component of mindfulness.

Not everyone experiences ASMR — and those who experience this benefit may be more likely to have anxiety. For those individuals, ASMR may offer some relief from their symptoms.

Whether you live with anxiety or not, you may find that you enjoy ASMR in some form or another.

If certain ASMR sounds turn you off, you might try visual or tactile ASMR as an alternative. However, ASMR may not be right for everyone.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious and seeking ways to cope, you might consider listening to calming music or practicing meditation. You may also wish to connect with a mental health professional for more support.