Relax, with ASMR
ASMR, a physiological sensation triggered by stimuli that both calm and arouse you, is meditation we can get behind.
Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
Nowadays, Facebook literally has no chill.
From the guy in your French class posting about why he believes Trump is hiding horns under his comb-over, to grandma writing something embarrassing on your timeline when she thinks that she’s emailing you, scrolling through the online world can be a stressful experience.
Enter: The seemingly endless videos of paint being mixed.
Specifically on Instagram, the hash tag #paintmixing has over 55,000 tags of people sharing their own versions of them mixing colors. The comments range from smiley-face emojis to personal stories of how the videos have helped viewers calm their anxiety.
All the clips begin the same way. Several drops of paint on a palette are slowly blended together using an object with a straight edge. New colors and new designs are created by the mixing and then eventually scraped away. Because the video plays on a loop, you can find yourself watching the video three or four times without even realizing.
In many ways, the appeal is similar to watching Bob Ross paint, as his calm, visually hypnotic program, “The Joy of Painting,” used to draw in viewers specifically for its sedative powers. For the decade that the show aired, audiences across the country used it to relax.
Supposedly, the scientific explanation to the calmness these videos provide is that people’s autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is triggered. People describe ASMR as a tingling feeling that begins at the top of the head and moves slowly down your neck to your spine, resulting in a feeling of tranquility.
It is commonly triggered by certain sounds, such as whispering or soft voices, or entrancing visuals, such as someone engaging in a mundane task like making food, which may contribute to the popularity of Tasty videos on “Buzzfeed.” I can spend an hour scrolling through the speedy videos of people preparing elaborate meals in ninety seconds.
Not everyone has the ability to experience ASMR, and it’s difficult for those unable to experience it to understand how it feels. I’m not even sure if I have experienced the feeling, but scientists have described it as a form of meditation that could result in sleep.
There was a time, long before the internet, when people were less intimate with each other. Strangers would not share with you the things they did to make their skin crawl, but now my newsfeed is loaded with videos of people cooking, blending paint and even just drawing. Though they are a little intense, I find most of the videos entertaining, and I almost always stop scrolling to watch. I would never make the recipes shown in the videos, but I love watching them being made. Some, like myself, say it’s just pleasing to watch, while others are completely transfixed by the sight.
ASMR has been described as an “orgasm for the brain,” though the sensation is devoid of any sexual components. In fact, relating ASMR to sex can take away from the experience, as unlike physical intimacy, most ASMR sensation comes from sound and sight.
To be completely honest, it’s a little weird.
The whole concept is especially odd to someone who has never experienced the feeling, which is why people don’t typically talk about it; but, with the popularity of the videos on social media, discussion of the concept is becoming more commonplace.
Personally, I didn’t get any kind of tingling sensation from watching the videos, and in fact found the experience more uncomfortable than anything.
There were clips featuring hair brushing and role-play, both of which just seemed like I was invading someone’s privacy. I became overly aware of my surroundings, as if I didn’t want to get caught watching the videos, much in the same way someone would feel watching porn. ASMR videos are far from lewd, but I can definitely see why people are so private about enjoying them.
So, maybe I don’t feel ASMR to the extent that other people do, but I can relate on a smallest of levels. I do know what it feels like to feel calm after watching food preparation videos or listening to someone read to me, so I can understand, at least philosophically, the appeal of watching the serene videos.
Students especially are using ASMR to relieve stress instead of turning to pills, and many of the ASMR YouTube stars are just in it to pay it forward, as many of them have used the relaxation technique to get through depression or other mental illnesses.
A few tingles and millions of views later, I think they’re onto something.