ASMR has been a developing corner of the internet since the mid 2000s. The hashtags and subReddits and threads in the worlds of TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have hundreds of thousands of watchers, readers, subscribers and followers. But what is it?
And what is the current hype about? Can ASMR be used for positive gains in the world of individual psychology and wellbeing? Are there any positive ways to utilise it for learning? Let’s take a look to perhaps gain some tactics to increase that wellbeing and even to enhance our educational capacity and productivity.
ASMR is described as a triggered physiological response to seeing an hearing different stimuli such as whispered voices, tapping or scratching sounds, or of sound and visual of a brush on surface. It has been suggested that the origin of this physiological response could be akin to the bonding process of grooming in primates and other species and as such it has both physical and psychological aspects to it.
“Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being.” Whilst this is still an under researched area of interest this quotation from an article by Barratt and Davis gives an interesting starting point and considers issues of anxiety, depression and pain management, alongside the ‘flow’ states of positive concentration which can aid recall capacities through being relaxed and receptive to learning.
Barratt and Davis also discuss being able to utilise the sensations that some people feel as a potential gateway to enhanced wellbeing and reduced negative states in order to function better – whether that means improved sleep, to relate to others better or learn better. By being in a more open, relaxed mental state and less prone to being physically stressed – or in less of a ‘flight, fight, freeze’ state – we are able to engage more with the tasks that life presents us with, and to recover more fully from the stressful situations that we encounter on a daily basis.
There appear to be links with other neurological pathways, such as synesthesia – the experience of one type of sensory stimulus being felt via a different one, i.e. ‘seeing’ sound as colour – and as with all things ‘neurodiverse’, not everyone will find benefit from it, experience it the same way or even resonate with the concept of ASMR. However, for those who experience this particular type of sensation it may be another tool which can be utilised for greater wellbeing, and possibly greater creativity and productivity.
Worldwide art exhibitions and ever-increasing numbers of dedicated accounts, feeds and streams on social media seem to indicate that far from being an outlandish or ‘weird’ experience, ASMR is now firmly integrated into the mainstream,with ever-increasing hundreds of thousands of individuals listening to and seeing ASMR sequences indicating it to be positive and wellness-enhancing.
So perhaps, if this discussion resonates, it is time to check out the potential for gains* in relaxation, better quality sleep, and even enhanced cognition that taking a moment to indulge ‘may’ be able to bring. Whilst this is a new area in the medical, scientific, and psychological communities, it is sure to be a developing one. With the anecdotal potential for even small gains in decreased resting heart rates – indicating reduced anxiety, reduced psychological stress, and increased physical wellbeing – there is potential for this phenomenon to be utilised for greater numbers of individual wellbeing in more support established settings.
The scientific community may currently be undecided on the nature of ASMR and its potential for impact but it is clear that just as other interventions like yoga, tapping, massage, and even talking therapies were once held at arms length and their efficacy debated; the nature of the mind-body connection means that if people are deriving some small level of positive gain then it could well be another strategy and intervention to add into our individual ‘toolkit’ to increase our individual positivity, our openness, and our capacity for meaningful creative learning connections.
* As discussed, this is a developing area of scientific and social interest. It is not a new form of treatment or intended to replace current treatment practices. If you are suffering from any form of anxiety or physical or psychological concern, please speck to a qualified medical professional for support.