All the Feels: ASMR

Remember The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross? Even if you didn’t watch an entire episode, his light brush strokes and calming voice as he talked about “happy accidents” would help many unwind from a busy day. Little did we (or maybe even Bob Ross himself) know that what he was doing would later be known as ASMR.

ASM What Now?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (aka ASMR) is a physical sensation, characterized by “tingles” starting at the scalp and traveling down the spine, when given soft methodical auditory, visual, or tactile (touch) stimuli. Think of caresses on the cheek, whispering or soft singing, or watching gentle hand motions. The feeling is said to provide a calming effect on an individual, helping to reduce anxiety, boost mood, and ease into sleep. Although this trend is crazy popular with adults via YouTube and relaxation apps, ASMR may be beneficial for kids, too; similar to a sound or white-noise machine.

The Inner Workings of ASMR

ASMR, for those who utilize it, offers a relaxing sensation felt throughout the body. In many ways, ASMR is the brain’s intense method of letting us know that we are in a safe place. When someone is experiencing ASMR, the areas of the brain that process reward, emotional arousal, and social behaviors are activated, releasing dopamine (aka happy hormone) and oxytocin (the love hormone). These hormones are typically distributed when sharing personal meaningful moments with others, such as hugging, having a deep conversation, or even brushing each other’s hair. It allows us to feel more connected with people, permitting us to feel safe and secure with them. This means that ASMR provides similar benefits to warm social bonds.

For example, if we feel anxious, we may reach out to our parents/friends/spouse to help calm us down. If they’re not available, watching an ASMR video may quiet down our jitters with someone talking in soft whispers or making soothing sounds (like tapping, clicking, flutters, etc). You may have a tingling sensation that relaxes and calms you, allowing you to go about your day. For children, this may be a useful tool to use when getting a hug or a pep talk from mom/dad is not feasible.

What Does the Research Say?

Research for ASMR, for the most part, is in its preliminary phase. Despite the recent studies, there is still more to uncover. Here’s what we know so far:

  • A recent study suggests that using ASMR as background noise while studying or taking exams can calm down anxious students as well as help them optimize academic potential and creativity.
  • Published research studies demonstrate that ASMR helps people feel more relaxed, comforted, and able to fall asleep more easily.
  • A 2018 study suggests that people who experience ASMR benefit emotionally and physiologically when watching videos that trigger these sensations. They reported the highest levels of positive emotions, the lowest levels of negative emotions, and their heart rate dropped to levels comparable to those during mindfulness meditation.
  • Researchers have found that brain activation during ASMR is similar to those seen in musical frisson (experiencing an emotional response when listening to music, such as goosebumps or crying).
  • Brain imaging studies found that people with ASMR have less distinct and more blended neural networks, suggesting that ASMR could happen due to the reduced ability to suppress emotional responses from sensory information.

Results May Vary

Although ASMR can be a positive experience for some (like my husband), it can be the absolute worst for others (like myself). My husband watches these videos to help unwind from a stressful day at work. He finds the whispers, gentle tapping, and the soft brushing rather comforting. I, however, feel my neck and jaw tighten, fists clench, and my ears numb when listening to it. Why is there such a variety in responses?

Having feelings of anger, anxiety, or irritability from ASMR could be a sign of misophonia (having a negative emotional response to certain sounds). These “supposed” calming sounds may send you into flight-fright-fight instead of increasing your chill. Research has found that ASMR and misophonia are closely linked, but it’s how the body responds to the sensory information that is different. For example, ASMR experiencers feel internal “tingles”, lowering their heart rate while misophonics receive “chills” felt on the skin with an elevated heart rate.

What if you feel nothing to ASMR? Although research is limited, life experiences, cultural influences, and perception can play a role in experiencing ASMR or not.

Adding ASMR into Everyday Life

If you feel like your child may benefit from ASMR, try these out:

  • There are a lot of ASMR videos/channels out there. Start with YouTube channels like WhispersRed Sleepy Children or podcasts like Mother Goose ASMR where the content is dedicated to kids and go from there. These videos can be added into your kids daily routine, especially after school or before engaging in a challenging situation. Just make sure you review and approve the content before you give it to your child.

  • DIY ASMR by recording yourself whispering or speaking softly to your child. You can get creative with your own taps, clicks, or gentle sounds as well. Don’t forget to get your kid’s input about their likes/dislikes as it is for them, after all.

  • Blend ASMR into learning. Sure, you can play it in the background, but you can also use a gentle voice and caring affect when reviewing their homework assignments or gently stroking their hair or turning the pages while reading them a book.

  • Continue being a wonderful parent by being present with your child, especially when they’re stressed or tired. If you hug them, give them undivided attention when they’re sad, or softly talk to them as they calm down from their day, you’re doing it right.

Note: If you plan to use ASMR to induce sleep, make it audio-only to limit visual distractions.

Cautionary Disclaimer

ASMR has technically been in our lives long before it was popular. If you’ve ever had to soothe your fussy newborn or console your little one from an emotional meltdown, you probably gave them those ASMR feels without knowing. It’s hypothesized that babies are born with a strong ability to experience ASMR, allowing them to be soothed with soft speech, light touches, and kind eyes; all things that can be considered as ASMR triggers.

ASMR is not for everyone. Light and gentle noises may not be your kid’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. Do not force it. Remember that research is still ongoing regarding this topic and not a lot (if any) discuss the benefits ASMR has on children. So, if it works, great. If not, feel free to try another tool to help your child be calm.


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Sources:
What Is ASMR, and How Can It Benefit Your Kid’s Mental Health? – ParentCo.
ASMR and Kids: What is It, and What are the Pros and Cons? – Detroit and Ann Arbor Metro Parent
How ASMR Can Help Your Child’s Anxiety & Focus – ASMR Meaning & Benefits For Kids | Brillia (discoverbrillia.com)
Can ASMR Videos Help Kids Relax? Experts Explain (romper.com)
ASMR: what we know so far about this unique brain phenomenon – and what we don’t (theconversation.com)
Testing the Tingles: The Science Behind ASMR (brainfacts.org)

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