ASMR: Relaxation or Irritation?

Summary: ASMR, a phenomenon enjoyed by many for its calming effects, has been scientifically shown to positively alter mood and physiological responses like heart rate and blood pressure in 25-30% of people.

Researchers, after reviewing over 1,000 scientific articles, confirmed ASMR’s consistent description and experience across individuals, noting changes in delta brain waves and activation in specific brain regions.

However, the long-term mental health effects of ASMR remain unproven, spurring a team to plan further studies with control videos to explore sustained impacts.

Key Facts:

  1. ASMR has short-term benefits on mood and physiology, but long-term mental health effects are not yet understood.
  2. EEG and fMRI studies show ASMR decreases delta waves and activates brain areas associated with attention and movement.
  3. Future research is planned to compare the long-term effects of ASMR videos against control videos like ‘walking tour’ clips.

Source: RUB

While some viewers find the videos irritating, for many people, including many students, they have become a huge part of their life – for example as a way to unwind after a hard day at university or as a way to fall asleep. But what’s ASMR really all about?

To find out, the researchers screened more than 1,000 articles and filtered out 54 on the subject of ASMR that had previously been published in a scientific journal after peer review by independent experts.

This shows a woman wearing headphones
fMRI studies have repeatedly shown that, among other things, very specific brain areas are involved in the ASMR experience, in particular the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is related to attentional processes, as well as brain regions related to movement. Credit: Neuroscience News

“We worked out that ASMR is a clearly outlined phenomenon that is experienced and described by many people in a very similar way,” says Tobias Lohaus.

“Experienced viewers of ASMR content also don’t seem to be guided by expectancy effects.”

Specifically, for the roughly 25 to 30 percent of people who can experience ASMR, several studies showed that watching ASMR videos was associated with short-term positive effects regarding their mood, as well as with physiological changes such as slower heartbeat and lower blood pressure.

In addition, EEG studies have repeatedly shown that ASMR experience is associated with a decrease in so-called delta waves, which are usually linked to deep sleep, but most recently have also been linked to states of consciousness.

“Perhaps precisely those states of consciousness that occur in a relaxed state,” Lohaus speculates.

fMRI studies have repeatedly shown that, among other things, very specific brain areas are involved in the ASMR experience, in particular the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is related to attentional processes, as well as brain regions related to movement.

Study on long-term effects in the pipeline

“Still, it’s important to point out that we haven’t yet discovered a study that demonstrated long-term effects on mental health induced by ASMR,” stresses Tobias Lohaus.

“This will require future studies that look at the effects of ASMR videos over a longer period of time and compare them to watching control videos.”

The research team from Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Duisburg-Essen is already planning such a study in a broader joint research proposal.

The team laid the groundwork for their new project by publishing an ASMR study in early 2023, which showed that so-called walking tour videos, in which people film their walk through a certain area, could be suitable control videos. These videos are associated with significantly less ASMR experience compared to ASMR clips.

About this ASMR and sensory neuroscience research news

Author: Meike Driessen
Source: RUB
Contact: Meike Driessen – RUB
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): A PRISMA-Guided Systematic Review” by Tobias Lohaus et al. Psychology of Consciousness Theory Research and Practice


Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): A PRISMA-Guided Systematic Review

The present PRISMA-guided article systematically reviews the current state of research on the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). A systematic literature search was conducted in Pubmed, SCOPUS, and Web of Science (last search: March 2022) selecting all studies that conducted quantitative scientific research on the ASMR phenomenon.

Fifty-four studies focusing on ASMR were retrieved (total participant number: n = 11,140). ASMR can be linked to several mental health-related variables (e.g., improved mood) and personality traits (e.g., neuroticism).

On the neurobiological level, ASMR has been associated with altered electrophysiological response patterns (tentatively suggesting δ wave decreases), activation of specific brain areas (particularly the anterior cingulate gyrus and movement-related regions), and atypical functional connectivity patterns as well as physiological changes such as heart rate reduction.

Future studies should evaluate the link between ASMR and additional psychological constructs, reveal more specific neurobiological outcome patterns and conduct long-term ASMR intervention studies.

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