A person speaks into a microphone to trigger Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or AMSR.Share on Pinterest

The ability to experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (AMSR) may be linked to two particular personality traits, research finds. Eddie Pearson/Stocksy United
  • ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a calming, tingling sensation triggered by specific visuals and sounds.
  • Two personality traits are linked to one’s ability to experience this sensation, a new study finds.
  • While more research is needed, recent studies show that ASMR can potentially lower heart rate and help reduce stress.

What began as a fringe trend on YouTube has caught the scientific community’s attention – it’s called ASMR, and it’s described as a calming, tingling sensation in response to specific sights and sounds.

A new study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, finds that people who can experience this sensation tend to share two particular personality traits.

Researchers describe Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) as an “intensely pleasant” tingling sensation that starts in the scalp and neck and is stimulated by different video-induced triggers.

They say these triggers include receiving or watching someone else receive personal attention, including massages and hair brushing, or listening to sounds like whispers or tapping.

Dr. Paul Poulakos, a board certified psychiatrist in Greenwich Village, New York, told Healthline that the audio-visual stimuli could span a wide range.

“But are typically fairly intimate and involve repeating sounds or movements such as whispering, watching someone cook, watching someone eat, watching someone brush their hair, scratching, tapping, crinkling, typing, and so forth,” he said.

For the study, researchers at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom recruited 64 participants between 18 and 58 years old to watch a video intended to trigger this sensation.

They were divided into two groups — those who could experience ASMR and those who could not — based on their responses to the video and if they reported feeling ASMR previously.

Participants also completed questionnaires that evaluated their levels of anxiety and neuroticism.

“Neuroticism is a personality trait that elicits individuals to experience negative affect such as anxiety, depression, frustration, jealousy, etc.,” explained Poulakos.

They were assessed for two types of anxiety: “state” anxiety, the moment-to-moment anxiety a person can experience, and “trait” anxiety, which describes people predisposed to being anxious.

Researchers found that ASMR-experiencers scored higher for neuroticism and trait anxiety than non-experiencers.

Also, ASMR-experiencers had greater pre-video state anxiety scores, which reduced significantly after watching the video.

“Individuals who are able to experience ASMR have significantly greater neuroticism, state anxiety, and trait anxiety scores compared to non-experiencers,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers found no difference in the non-experiencers’ state anxiety scores before or after the video.

“Preliminary studies have shown that ASMR can lower heart rate,” said Poulakos.

He explained that elevated heart rate is one way our bodies physically manifest psychological experiences of anxiety or panic.

“By lowering HR, it is possible that ASMR sends a reverse feedback loop to the brain, resulting in the overall experience of less anxiety,” Poulakos continued.

He added that since the body naturally reacts to anxiety-provoking situations by elevating its heart rate, achieving a lowered heart rate during ASMR might communicate to our brains that there is no anxiety-provoking stimulus present and we can relax.

The study authors concluded that more research is needed to address the limitations of their study and improve understanding of this phenomenon.

According to researchers, a significant limitation is that the video featured a rapid selection of sounds that even some of the ASMR experiencers found irritating.

“Due to the subjective nature of ASMR, there is substantial individual variability in which triggers induce the sensation,” the authors wrote.

Earlier research has looked at ways to explain ASMR sensations and found that “expectancy” can play a big role.

Researchers examined whether ASMR users experienced “placebo effect” stress reduction because they expect to experience reduced stress.

According to Dr. Wayne B. Jonas, executive director of Integrative Health Programs at Samueli Foundation, the term “placebo effect” can be confusing and is often misused.

“Placebo is most commonly defined as an inert substance such as a sugar pill or an injection of saltwater or a fake treatment used in medicine,” he explained. “But there is another definition of placebo that is more useful in practice: a response to the context and meaning of a treatment.”

He noted that a placebo response is still a response and causes measurable biological and psychological change to the “meaning and context of a treatment as delivered through treatment rituals.”

The authors of this study concluded that figuring out the answer to whether ASMR provides a placebo effect should be the focus of future research as it carries important implications for at-home stress and pain management.

An impromptu survey conducted by the website ASMR University asked people whether their ability to experience ASMR has ever gone away, either temporarily or permanently.

Commenters responded that at times it could if they were overstimulated.

“If I watch too many ASMR videos too often, it might become more difficult to get the tingles,” said one. She explained that her solution was to stop watching ASMR videos for up to a week, and her ability to feel the sensation returned.

Another lamented that overstimulation eventually made it impossible to feel the sensation and described the loss as “torture.”

ASMR is a pleasant tingling sensation some people can experience when exposed to specific sights or sounds – but only some people can experience it.

A new study finds that those who experience AMSR tend to score higher for anxiety and neuroticism.

Experts say this phenomenon can reduce heart rate, creating a “reverse feedback loop to the brain” that reduces anxiety.