Causing annoyance in some, and a sense of well-being in others, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos have been spreading online for a few years now and research is beginning to look into their benefits for our mental and physical health.
Whispered words, minimalist noises such as the hiss of a spray can, a chewing mouth, a brush passed through the hair or hands rubbing; movements too, usually slow and delicate... These are just some of the many sound and visual stimulations that fascinate ASMR enthusiasts.
On the web, ASMR videos obtain millions of views and become almost viral. Their followers most often find it a form of almost hypnotic relaxation. "The resulting sensation is frequently described as a tingling that begins at the top of the head and can extend to the neck and spine, all associated with a feeling of well-being similar to that experienced with mindfulness meditation," Steven Laureys, FNRS researcher and director of the Brain Center of the CHU de Liège, told Le Soir. "You could also compare it to the thrills of pleasure you get from listening to certain pieces of music."
Several mental and physical benefits
The enthusiasm for ASRM is becoming so strong that scientific research is timidly beginning to take an interest in it. Some small-scale studies suggest that this emotional state may have benefits for our mental and physical health. Watching ASMR videos, for example, could help reduce heart rate and therefore stress, but could also help with pain management. It could also prove beneficial in the case of sleep disorders.
"Studies have shown that the auditory or visual stimulus of ASMR can induce the brain signals required for sleep," said Laureys. "This is an avenue that would be interesting to explore. Because the development of this new method could lead some patients to improve the quality of their sleep by turning away from sleeping pills."
ASMR is also at the heart of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies in which researchers are trying to understand the neurological correlations induced by this emotional state, but also to identify the profiles of people who are receptive to it.
"The mechanisms underlying ASMR are still unclear," said Professor Laureys. "But it still seems that we are not all equal in the face of these stimuli. Some are more receptive to it than others, without really knowing why. Nevertheless, according to some studies, people receptive to ASMR are more open to experience and are more empathetic."
Not all people who are sensitive to ASMR respond to the same stimuli. But often, this emotional state occurs after the combination of several triggers, with certain constants such as light touches, soft words, whispering or the clarity of certain sounds. Established as a real trend on the net, ASMR has not yet piqued the curiosity of the scientific community enough for it to consider, on a large scale, the possibility of transforming this fashion into a therapeutic tool.