MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When Pam Dusbabek brought up the idea of talking publicly about ASMR to her daughter, Julia, both women surprised each other.
“I was like, ‘You watch those?’” Julia said. “I thought it was weird and I never said anything!”
But both women decided to share their ASMR stories because it helps them relax, calm their brains and often fall asleep quickly at night.
“I’ll watch for about 10 minutes and then I’ll wake up in the morning and my phone has died and I don’t remember what I saw,” Pam said. “It just kind of quiets everything down.”
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. The videos that induce that response are among the fastest growing genres online. They’re mostly on YouTube, and show people doing everything from whispering, to brushing their hair, to tapping their desks, or drawing on paper. YouTube’s most popular ASMR-tist has seven million followers online. Others have around two million each.
For both Pamela and Julia, the videos can elicit what have been termed “brain tingles.”
“It feels like tingles up the spine, like when you’re getting a really light touch massage,” said Pam.
There hasn’t been much peer-reviewed research on ASMR — just 11 studies since 2015. But some of the more recent research has shown the regions of the brain that are most active with ASMR are similar to the regions activated in the connections between parents and infants, according to Dr. Craig Richard, author of the book “Brain Tingles” and founder of the website ASMR University.
“It’s conveying that you’re with someone you can trust,” said Dr. Richard. “You feel safe, you feel like you can relax.”
One of the theories of what causes the tingling and relaxation, Dr. Richard says is the release of chemicals in the brain, like oxytocin or dopamine. He estimates about 20% of the population might feel ASMR after watching the videos, but it’s not clear why some people do and some people don’t. He expects more research to be conducted as the phenomenon grows.
“It’s not that new of an idea,” says Dr. Ron Tarrel, a neurologist and the Noran Clinic and Abbott Northwestern.
Dr. Tarrel says there’s something in neurology called synesthesia, where certain senses can cross over and make an impression on other senses. Painter Bob Ross, whose videos have become popular in ASMR circles, often elicits an ASMR reaction from his 1980s videos.
“Some kids have a blanket when they’re little, other kids have pacifiers, some people sleep with a fan,” said Julia. “I sleep with ASMR.”