What is the Science Behind ASMR and Can it Really Relax You?

What is the Science Behind ASMR and Can it Really Relax You?

Have you ever felt a tingly, calming sensation run down your neck and spine while watching somebody whisper, tap gently, or perform other seemingly mundane tasks? If so, you may have experienced the mysterious phenomenon known as the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).

ASMR has taken the internet by storm in recent years, with millions of people tuning into YouTube channels and other platforms dedicated to creating videos designed to trigger this unique physical reaction. But what exactly is ASMR, and is there any scientific evidence to support its purported relaxation benefits? Let's dive into the fascinating world of ASMR and explore what we know so far.

Understanding ASMR: Meaning and Triggers

The term "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response" was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, a cybersecurity professional and one of the early pioneers of the ASMR community on YouTube[1]. It refers to the tingling, static-like sensation that some people experience in response to certain auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli, often described as a pleasurable wave of relaxation that starts at the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and spine.

While the specific triggers can vary from person to person, some common examples of ASMR-inducing stimuli include:

  • Whispering or speaking softly
  • Tapping, scratching, or crinkling sounds
  • Slow, deliberate hand movements
  • Repetitive tasks like brushing hair or turning pages
  • Close personal attention or role-playing scenarios

Interestingly, the concept of ASMR-like sensations has been around for much longer than the term itself. Researchers have found possible references to the phenomenon in classic literature by authors such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, suggesting that people have been experiencing these tingles for centuries, even if they didn't have a name for it[2].

The Science Behind ASMR: What Does It Do to Your

While the study of ASMR is still in its infancy, researchers have begun to unravel some of the neurological processes that may underlie this unique sensory experience. In a small but groundbreaking study published in 2018, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the brain activity of 10 participants while they watched ASMR videos[3].

The results were fascinating: when the participants reported experiencing the characteristic tingling sensations, their brains showed increased activity in several key regions, including[3]:

  • The frontal lobe: Associated with emotion, empathy, and social behaviors.
  • The parietal lobe: Involved in processing sensory information and attention.
  • The temporal lobe: Plays a role in auditory processing and memory formation.

These findings suggest that ASMR may be more than just a quirky internet trend – it appears to be a genuine sensory phenomenon with measurable effects on the brain.

But that's not all. The researchers also proposed that ASMR might trigger the release of certain neurotransmitters and hormones associated with pleasure, relaxation, and social bonding, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins[3]. This could help explain why many ASMR enthusiasts report feeling calm, sleepy and comforted after watching or listening to ASMR content.

The Potential Benefits of ASMR: Improving Mood, Sleep, and More

While more research is still needed, the existing evidence suggests that ASMR may offer a range of potential benefits for those who experience it. Here are some of the most promising areas:

Improved Mood and Stress Relief

One of the most commonly reported effects of ASMR is an improved mood and a sense of relaxation. In an early study published in 2015, researchers found that 80% of participants experienced a mood boost after being exposed to ASMR stimuli, with the effects lasting longer for those with lower levels of depression[4].

Additionally, many ASMR enthusiasts report feeling a reduction in stress and anxiety after watching or listening to ASMR content, potentially due to the release of calming neurotransmitters like oxytocin and endorphins.

Better Sleep Quality

ASMR's ability to induce a state of deep relaxation has led researchers to explore its potential as a natural sleep aid. A 2015 study found that a staggering 82% of participants used ASMR to help them fall asleep, with many reporting improvements in sleep quality[4].

Researchers believe that ASMR may help facilitate the transition into the theta brainwave state associated with deep, restorative sleep, making it a promising alternative to traditional sleep aids or medication.

Pain Relief

While the research is still limited, some studies have suggested that ASMR may offer temporary relief from chronic pain. In the same 2015 study mentioned earlier, a portion of participants reported experiencing pain relief that lasted up to 3 hours after exposure to ASMR stimuli[4].

The exact mechanisms behind this potential benefit are not yet clear, but it's possible that the release of endorphins and the promotion of relaxation may play a role in reducing pain perception.

Enhanced Concentration and Flow State

Interestingly, researchers have found similarities between the brain activity patterns observed during ASMR and those associated with the "flow state" – a state of deep, focused concentration where you lose your sense of time and become fully immersed in a task[4].

This has led some to speculate that ASMR may have cognitive benefits,  potentially aiding in tasks that require sustained attention or creativity. However, more research is needed to fully understand this connection.

ASMR for Specific Conditions: Exploring the Possibilities

As interest in ASMR continues to grow, researchers are also exploring its potential applications for various conditions and disorders. Here are a few areas where ASMR may offer therapeutic benefits:

ADHD and Concentration Issues

Given the potential link between ASMR and enhanced concentration, some researchers have suggested that ASMR could be a useful tool for individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While dedicated research in this area is still lacking, the meditative and mindfulness-like qualities of ASMR may help improve focus and attention for those who struggle with these issues.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Preliminary research has also explored the potential benefits of ASMR for individuals on the autism spectrum. Some studies have suggested that ASMR could help with emotional self-regulation, anxiety, and stress management, as well as provide a calming and soothing effect after periods of overstimulation or meltdowns[5][6].

However, it's important to note that not all individuals on the autism spectrum may respond positively to ASMR, especially those with sensitivities to certain sounds or stimuli.

Headaches and Tension Relief

While there is no direct study on the relationship between ASMR and headaches, several researchers have mentioned that ASMR may help alleviate tension headaches due to its relaxation-promoting effects.

By reducing stress and muscle tension, particularly in the head and neck areas, ASMR could potentially provide relief from the discomfort associated with tension headaches.

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

Given the reported mood-boosting and stress-relieving effects of ASMR, some researchers have suggested that it may have therapeutic potential for individuals struggling with anxiety disorders or mood disorders like depression.

However, it's important to note that while ASMR may provide temporary relief for some, it should not be considered a replacement for professional treatment or therapy for these conditions.

The Drawbacks and Limitations of ASMR

While the potential benefits of ASMR are intriguing, it's important to recognize that not everyone experiences the phenomenon in the same way, and there are some potential drawbacks to consider[7]:

Individual Differences and Non-Responders

One of the most significant limitations of ASMR is that not everyone experiences the tingles or relaxation response. In fact, some people report feeling stressed, annoyed, or even disgusted by the very stimuli that others find soothing.

Additionally, even among those who do experience ASMR, there can be significant individual differences in the types of triggers that are effective, as well as the intensity and duration of the response.

ASMR Immunity and Desensitization

Another potential issue is the phenomenon of "ASMR immunity" or desensitization. Some long-term ASMR viewers report that after prolonged exposure, the tingles and relaxation effects begin to diminish or disappear altogether.

This "immunity" may be due to the brain becoming accustomed to the stimuli, rendering them less effective over time. While taking breaks from ASMR content can sometimes help restore sensitivity, this potential for desensitization is worth considering, especially for those who rely heavily on ASMR for relaxation or sleep.

Misophonia and Aversive Reactions

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a condition known as misophonia, which is characterized by an extreme sensitivity or aversion to certain sounds, including those commonly used in ASMR videos, such as whispering, tapping, or chewing noises.

For individuals with misophonia, ASMR content can trigger intense feelings of anger, anxiety, or even panic, making it a potentially distressing or harmful experience rather than a relaxing one.

Overstimulation and Sensory Overload

While ASMR is often associated with relaxation, it's important to note that for some individuals, particularly those with sensory processing disorders or certain neurological conditions, the stimuli used in ASMR videos may actually lead to overstimulation or sensory overload.

This could result in feelings of discomfort, agitation, or even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea, defeating the intended purpose of ASMR as a relaxation tool.

Potential for Dependence or Overuse

Like any activity or behavior that provides pleasure or relief, there is a risk of developing an unhealthy dependence or overuse of ASMR content.

While there is no evidence to suggest that ASMR itself is inherently addictive, some individuals may find themselves relying too heavily on it as a coping mechanism or escape, potentially neglecting other important aspects of their lives or failing to address underlying issues that may be contributing to their need for relaxation or sleep assistance.

Finding the Right ASMR Experience for You

Despite the potential drawbacks and limitations, ASMR remains a fascinating and potentially beneficial phenomenon for many people. However, it's crucial to approach it with an open and exploratory mindset, recognizing that not all ASMR content or triggers will work for everyone.

Here are some tips for finding the right ASMR experience that works best for you:

  1. Explore different triggers: ASMR triggers can be highly personal, and what works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with different types of sounds, visuals, and role-playing scenarios to find the ones that resonate most with you.
  2. Start slow and observe your reactions: If you're new to ASMR, start with shorter videos and pay attention to how your body and mind respond. If you experience discomfort, anxiety, or overstimulation, it may be best to try a different trigger or take a break.
  3. Seek out reputable and respectful creators: The ASMR community is vast, and not all content creators follow ethical or respectful practices. Look for channels with positive reviews and a focus on creating a safe, comfortable, and non-sexualized experience.
  4. Use ASMR as a supplement, not a replacement: While ASMR can be a helpful tool for relaxation, sleep, or managing certain conditions, it should not be relied upon as a sole treatment or replacement for professional care or therapy when needed.
  5. Be mindful of potential desensitization: To avoid "ASMR immunity," consider taking regular breaks from ASMR content and exploring other relaxation techniques or activities.
  6. Respect individual differences: Not everyone will experience or enjoy ASMR, and that's perfectly okay. Respect the fact that some people may find certain triggers unpleasant or even distressing, and avoid pressuring or judging those who don't share your affinity for ASMR.

By approaching ASMR with an open and responsible mindset, and being attuned to your own individual needs and preferences, you can increase your chances of finding a relaxing and enjoyable experience that works for you.

The Future of ASMR Research and Understanding

While the study of ASMR is still in its early stages, the growing interest and curiosity surrounding this phenomenon have inspired researchers to delve deeper into its underlying mechanisms, potential applications, and societal impact.

As more studies are conducted and our understanding of ASMR evolves, we may gain valuable insights into the complex interplay between sensory perception, emotional processing, and physical relaxation responses.

Additionally, the exploration of ASMR could shed light on broader topics such as neurodiversity, individual differences in sensory processing, and the role of technology in shaping our experiences and relationships.

However, it's important to approach ASMR research with a critical and objective lens, acknowledging the limitations of current studies and avoiding overgeneralization or exaggerated claims.

As with any emerging field, there is a need for rigorous, well-designed studies and a willingness to challenge and refine existing theories as new evidence emerges.
Ultimately, the future of ASMR research holds the promise of not only better understanding this unique phenomenon but also gaining deeper insights into the workings of the human mind and body, and potentially uncovering new avenues for promoting overall well-being and relaxation.


The science behind ASMR is still shrouded in mystery, but the growing body of research and anecdotal evidence suggest that this peculiar phenomenon may offer real benefits for relaxation, mood enhancement, and even potential therapeutic applications.

While not everyone experiences ASMR in the same way, and there are valid concerns about potential drawbacks or limitations, the widespread popularity and reported positive effects of ASMR make it a fascinating area of study that deserves further exploration.

As we continue to unravel the neurological and psychological underpinnings of ASMR, we may not only gain a better understanding of this unique sensory experience but also unlock new insights into the complex workings of our brains, emotions, and overall well-being.

So, the next time you find yourself mesmerized by the gentle tapping of fingernails or the soothing murmurs of a whispered voice, remember that there's more than just entertainment at play – you may be tapping into a powerful, innate mechanism for relaxation that science is only beginning to understand.


[1] “How A.S.M.R. Became a Sensation (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 2024, www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/magazine/how-asmr-videos-became-a-sensation-youtube.html.

[2] Poerio, G. “Could Insomnia Be Relieved with a YouTube Video? The Relaxation and Calm of ASMR.” Springer EBooks, Springer Nature, Jan. 2016, pp. 119–28, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-45264-7_15.

[3] Lochte, Bryson C et al. “An fMRI investigation of the neural correlates underlying the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).” BioImpacts : BI vol. 8,4 (2018): 295-304.doi:10.15171/bi.2018.32

[4] Barratt, Emma L, and Nick J Davis. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state.” PeerJ vol. 3 e851. 26 Mar. 2015, doi:10.7717/peerj.851

[5] Modesto-Lowe, Vania et al. “Does mindfulness meditation improve attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?.” World journal of psychiatry vol. 5,4 397-403. 22 Dec. 2015, doi:10.5498/wjp.v5.i4.397

[6] Barratt, Emma L, and Nick J Davis. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state.” PeerJ vol. 3 e851. 26 Mar. 2015, doi:10.7717/peerj.851

[7] Engelbregt, H J et al. “The effects of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) on mood, attention, heart rate, skin conductance and EEG in healthy young adults.” Experimental brain research vol. 240,6 (2022): 1727-1742. doi:10.1007/s00221-022-06377-9

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