Deep Dive: Why We Still Can’t Get Enough Of ASMR

Brought to you by Oporto

Fresh grilled Portuguese chicken and burgers - home of the iconic Bondi Burger and their legendary chilli sauce since 1986.

You either love it or you hate it.

ASMR leaves some people totally confused and bored. But, for others, it ignites sparkling tingles across their brain. It creeps up from unexpected places – a whisper, a satisfying squelch, or even the sizzle of hot grilled cheese – and then fingertips its way across their scalp.

How does this little number our mates over at Punkee made in honour of Oporto’s Bondi Burger make you feel?

Oporto Bondi Burger ASMR

Sit back and enjoy an entire minute of the soothing ASMR sounds of the Oporto Bondi Burger. We said what we said.– With Oporto

Posted by Punkee on Thursday, July 16, 2020

ASMR has gone from an unexplained physical sensation to a booming industry. The people who make it (“ASMRtists”) have millions of followers on YouTube, and scientists and researchers are still playing catch-up. Can this phenomenon help soothe anxiety? Is it sexual? Why doesn’t everyone experience it?

Five years ago, there were countless news stories chronicling ASMR as an emerging trend. But it certainly wasn’t a fad. In 2020, ASMR is more popular than ever.

The basics: what is ASMR?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. In English, that means it’s a sensation that arises from some kind of stimulus and produces a peak or climax (yeah, it’s not hard to see why some people think it’s all sexual).

This feeling has always existed, it just didn’t have a name until 2010 – unless you count some confused people online calling it a “brain-gasm”. It’s most commonly triggered by soft noises like whispering, but it can also be brought on by light physical touch and unbroken personal attention. The most popular ASMR videos often contain all three.

Weirdly, not all people feel this sensation. But the ones who do largely report the same thing: a tingly feeling in the brain and scalp, and an overall sense of relaxation and euphoria. It can often send people to sleep.

You might have felt this way without ever having watched ASMR videos. Think about how you feel when a hairdresser gently runs their hands through your hair. Think about Bob Ross telling you how to paint. That’s ASMR.

Why do people like it so much?

Formal research into this phenomenon only really kicked off in 2014. Psychologists at Swansea University found that ASMR was most commonly used as “an opportunity for relaxation” and a way to “deal with stress”. (FYI just 5% of survey participants reported using ASMR for sexual stimulation.)

This study even suggested ASMR could provide “temporary relief in mood for those suffering from depression” and a reduction in discomfort for those experiencing chronic pain.

In 2018, researchers at the University of Sheffield looked into the physiological effects of ASMR for the first time. They found similar results. People who experienced the sensation had a lower heart rate while watching the videos, demonstrating genuine physical relaxation.

It’s quite a natural thing when you think about it. Some researchers, such as professor of biopharmaceutical sciences Craig Richard in the video below, have noted that the major ASMR triggers – whispering, personal attention etc – are reminiscent of soothing techniques used on children.

It’s possible that experiencing these comforting behaviours through the screen can release certain mood-altering chemicals in our brains. Richard discusses how oxytocin, “the love hormone”, could be involved: “it’s already well known that your oxytocin levels increase when someone gives you positive attention in a kind and caring way”. This causes you to feel “relaxed, calm and comforted”.

It’s still not known why some people don’t experience ASMR’s effects at all.

ASMR today

In 2020, ASMR is a global phenomenon. It might feel like interest peaked around 2016, when every media outlet was covering it as the hot “new sensation” but, when you look at the actual data, ASMR actually hit its peak popularity in the last two years (the most popular periods were February 2019 and May 2020).

This interest comes from all around the world. YouTube trend results show that ASMR is most popular in South Korea, Finland, France, New Zealand and Sweden. Australia ranks as the eighth most popular region, with top search results including “ASMR sleep”, “ASMR massage” and “ASMR slime”.

Remember when we were all obsessed with slime?

ASMR videos of people eating, however, remain the most searched clips on YouTube globally. Maybe, in the age of COVID, we all miss hearing each other eat in restaurants?

If ASMR is ultimately used to relieve stress and anxiety, its continued popularity makes perfect sense to me right now. 2020 has not exactly been the most relaxing year.

You gotta take the fun brain tingles where you can find ‘em.

Craving a taste of Bondi? Order yours via delivery here.

(Lead image: Audrey_Popov / Shutterstock)