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Mesmerized By The Mundane: What Is ASMR, And How Does It Work?

I spend more time on TikTok than I like to admit. It started innocently enough as a way to see how my teenaged daughter was spending her time. Turned out to be eye-opening in many ways.

Something that puzzled me (no — mesmerized me) was a video featuring a young woman sitting in a car, wearing a seatbelt, giving advice about life. But she was doing it while putting on bronzer. Yep. You might want to read that again. She was dispensing advice while methodically applying bronzer. It was crazy and absurd and I couldn’t stop watching. It turns out there is a lot of this type content out there. In a loose sense, this is part of the ASMR craze — a hugely popular genre which uses mundane actions, sounds, and movements to please the senses and perhaps distract the mind.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is blowing up YouTube, where channels like “Gentle Whispering” have more than 2 million subscribers. People find the simple content relaxing and hypnotic. And some viewers even report a “tingly” feeling down the spine that ASMR is designed to evoke.

That’s the “response” aspect of this stimulation. The ASMR entry on Wikipedia describes the response as a pleasant sensation that usually begins on the scalp and moves down the back. Just watching relaxing videos creates a pleasant form of paresthesia, or low-grade euphoria, in some people.

ASMR causes a weird sensation to be sure, and evidently millions of viewers can’t get enough of it, deriving pleasure or calmness from the second-hand experience.

Examples of an ASMR video on TikTok include: brushing hair, chewing food, chopping vegetables, dusting, vacuuming, typing, softly speaking, massaging, and even putting on makeup.

What is ASMR if not a filmed version of hypnosis?

There is not a lot of scientific research behind this, yet, and many think it’s the strangest thing they’ve ever heard. But ever since ASMR burst on the scene about ten years ago, it has sky-rocketed in popularity, so there’s got to be something to it.

The content is so popular that videos creators are now zeroing in on specific ‘triggers’ meant to induce the tingly feeling. Some creators might specialize in role play, while others may stick to tapping noises. And as for the clientele, viewers say they feel relaxed and even sleepy after watching ASMR videos. The sleep-induction aspect of ASMR has actually become a big part of its success quotient.

Dozing off to mundane, soothing sounds or sights is proving to be a great way to calm down, unwind and set the stage for restful sleep. It is also being used to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, along with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

You can get very deep into this topic, but one thing’s for sure — it’s here to stay. And it’s becoming an extra feature of vlogging, as well. Based on the popularity of ASMR, more TikTokkers are incorporating mundane activities into their videos (like the aforementioned “woman in the car applying bronzer” video that got the caught my attention). There are similar tactics employed in psychology which use repetitive actions and stimulation to distract and calm patients and better help them open up about what issues might be bothering them. So maybe this is the hypnosis of the next generation.

Whatever the intention, millions of viewers are enjoying the benefit of being mesmerized by the mundane.

What do you think?


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