A Psychologist Tells You Everything You Need To Know About ASMR
Studies shows that certain personalities have a heightened receptivity to ASMR, the soothing auditory and visual experience that triggers a tingling sensation.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 12, 2023
Have you ever heard or saw something that left your body tingling? A gentle whisper, the crinkle of wrapping paper, the tapping of a finger or the sound or sight of rushing water. If stimuli like these have ever left you feeling euphoric, you might be prone to ASMR, and research shows that your personality might have something to do with it.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) refers to the phenomenon in which the perception of certain audio-visual stimuli results in a pleasurable and intense tingling sensation in the neck and on the scalp, often traveling through the rest of the body. The sensation is often followed with feelings of relaxation and tranquility, leaving the experiencer feeling calm and blissful.
Since its discovery, the creation and consumption of online ASMR content has sky-rocketed, with over 500,000 channels and over 2.5 million videos on YouTube dedicated to triggering viewers’ ASMR. While this sensational phenomenon leaves some in a state of ecstasy, others might not be receptive to ASMR. So, why does this response occur? And who is more prone to it? Here are some answers.
What Causes ASMR?
Psychologists and neurologists acknowledge that the causes and mechanisms of ASMR are understudied and not yet fully understood. However, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health summarized the overarching understanding that academics have of the phenomenon:
- MRI studies reveal that those who experience ASMR have reduced functional connectivity in the default mode network of the brain during resting states. The default mode network is a network of brain regions associated with self-reflection and mind-wandering, and is usually inactive when we are focused on tasks but active when our mind is at rest.
- Further fMRI studies show that those sensitive to ASMR have increased activation in specific brain regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex (associated with self-awareness and social cognition), the nucleus accumbens (related to the brain’s reward system) and the anterior cingulate cortex and insula (both tied to emotional arousal).
- Researchers found increased alpha wave activity in participants who experience ASMR, which is associated with meditative states and relaxation. This effect was not observed in participants who do not experience ASMR.
- It was also discovered that arousal, which refers to heightened alertness and emotional responsiveness, is a key characteristic of ASMR. This suggests that ASMR experiences are not just about relaxation; they can also involve heightened emotional states.
Delving deeper into the fascinating world of ASMR, it becomes evident that this phenomenon is not uniform across the population. Some individuals are more sensitive to it than others, and psychologists are now suggesting that certain personality traits are associated with higher sensitivity to ASMR, and these sensitive individuals could be reaping benefits from ASMR unknowingly.
ASMR Sensitivity, Personality And Perks
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology outlined which of the Big Five personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness—were most strongly associated with a sensitivity to ASMR. The researchers found that individuals who were more open and neurotic had a higher sensitivity to ASMR than other personalities.
Given these findings, it could be that those who are open to new experiences might be drawn to ASMR’s novel and unconventional sensory delights. On the other hand, neurotic individuals, with their heightened emotional sensitivity, might find solace in ASMR’s calming effects, using it as a way to ease their stress and emotional tension. Their attention to detail and complex inner worlds may also play a part in enhancing their sensitivity to ASMR’s intricate triggers.
Beyond personality’s connection to tingling tendencies, a study published in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that ASMR, or even just watching ASMR videos, gives rise to various mental benefits, including:
- Mood enhancement. The study suggests that ASMR has the potential to improve mood by reducing feelings of depression, particularly in individuals who are sensitive to ASMR.
- Heart rate reduction. Simply watching ASMR videos can actually lower heart rates, regardless of whether individuals are sensitive to ASMR or not. So, the calming effects of ASMR might have broader applications in promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
- Attention regulation. ASMR might be linked to heightened arousal and a state of focused attention, almost like being in the “zone” or a highly absorbed mental state. So, it’s not just about relaxation; there’s an element of deep engagement too.
How To Start Your ASMR Journey
If you’re curious about ASMR but not sure where to start, consider the ASMR Trigger Checklist (linked below), based on thorough empirical research. Also consider looking up some ASMR videos to see if the tingles take over. Here are a few common triggers:
- Tactile/interpersonal triggers. Hair play, ear cleaning, make-up application, blowing air, eye contact.
- Vocal auditory triggers. Whispering, foreign accents, reading out loud, breathing, eating sounds.
- Non-vocal auditory triggers. Tapping, brushing, scratching, crinkling, page turning, buzzing.
ASMR, with its mysterious tingling allure, has a lot more to it than meets the ear or eye. If you’re open to new experiences or a touch neurotic, you might find ASMR particularly appealing and therapeutic. It can uplift your mood, reduce your heart rate and immerse you in a state of focused attention. Whether it’s a gentle touch or soothing whispers, ASMR might be your pathway to relaxation, joy and a deeper mental state.
If you’d like to test your sensitivity to ASMR and view the full list of ASMR triggers, follow this link: ASMR Triggers Checklist