ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, seems to be popping up everywhere — from Zoe Kravitz's Super Bowl commercial to Cardi B's self-professed bedtime routine. People who experience ASMR say certain sounds give them pleasurable brain shivers, and one scientist says her research is beginning to confirm that.
"It's more something that I've experienced for my whole life, but it wasn't something that I was aware that other people also experience," says Giulia Poerio, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield, who launched some of the first scientific research on ASMR.
Poerio and her team at the University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University in England set out to determine if people who say they experience ASMR are actually having a genuine response, she tells Here & Now's Robin Young. Researchers measured people's physiological responses as they watched ASMR videos — and found their heart rates dropped by as much as 3.4 beats per minute.
"It's really interesting because we now have more objective evidence that ASMR is a genuine response," Poerio says.
A common misconception among people who haven't experience ASMR or watched ASMR videos is that they are sexually arousing in some way, but Poerio says reductions in heart rate show that is not the case.
"I think the difficulty comes because the nature of the videos are that they're quite close and interpersonal," she says. "So it's kind of a bit strange because it's — certainly on YouTube — that you don't know the person very well at all, but there's this very intimate situation. So that might be why some people find it a bit odd."
The use of ASMR videos to help people fall asleep is similar to the use of white-noise machines, Poerio says, but it almost puts people "in a trance-like state," which leads to sleep. People who experience ASMR also report it helps ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
But some people have reported ASMR immunity, which is when they've overexposed themselves to ASMR stimuli such that they are less able to experience its full effect, Poerio says.
"It's like a tolerance," she says. "So I would normally advise people to take a bit of a break from ASMR stimuli if that's happening to them."
Crisp sounds like crinkling or cutting paper, layered with whispering, can commonly trigger an ASMR response, Poerio says.
"It's the same as ... something like music-induced chills where you listen to an incredible piece of music and you get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up," she says. "What is it about some sounds that create that physiological reaction? It's something that we don't quite know yet, but it's interesting that it happens for some people and not for others."
This segment aired on February 20, 2019.
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