You’ve probably felt the tingles before. They often start at the head and move down the neck and back, sending a pleasant shiver down your spine. They may have been brought on by a gentle touch of your hair or arm, a soothing sound like crinkling paper, a whisper in your ear; even a repetitive motion like neatly folding clothes. These brain tingles you’re feeling have a name: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — ASMR for short.
While it’s fairly common to experience ASMR in everyday activities (though you may not have had a name for it before), you can also get these sensations on demand. Specifically, on YouTube, where numerous channels and millions of videos feature “ASMRtists” trying to elicit tingles through the use of sounds, visual movements, and sometimes skillful editing. Several videos even incorporate the use of words and phrases in other languages, which led us to wonder: can ASMR assist in the language-learning process? And if so, how?
First, we need to understand how ASMR works and the other benefits it can provide.
What Is ASMR?
“ASMR is a deeply relaxing feeling usually associated with pleasurable brain tingles,” says Dr. Craig Richard, founder of ASMRUniversity.com and author of Brain Tingles. “It can feel like a massage, but someone may not even be touching you.”
Dr. Richard describes it as “a variety of soothing sensations” caused by “a variety of gentle stimuli.” The sensations can take the form of a tingling feeling, sleepiness or simply a state of relaxation. And possible stimuli (referred to as “triggers” in the ASMR community) include whispers, repeated words, soothing sounds, slow and methodical movements, personal attention, and more.
The term Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response was coined by a woman named Jennifer Allen, who founded asmr-research.org and worked with Dr. Richard on the ASMR Research Project. Allen wanted people to be able to discuss this phenomenon objectively, without using words that were sexual, taboo or didn’t align with their own experiences.
So what’s the science here? While there isn’t a ton of published research in this area yet, a few studies have found evidence to suggest it’s a real phenomenon — not pseudoscience. It may even be good for you.
What Are The Benefits Of ASMR?
Anecdotally, people have claimed ASMR relaxed them, helped them fight insomnia and fall asleep, improved their mood (especially when they suffer from anxiety or depression), helped them focus, and mitigated pain, among other things.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom set out to discover what benefits, if any, could be gleaned from experiencing ASMR. The results were pretty interesting. Essentially, people who have experienced ASMR in the past had lower heart rates, comparable to those measured in other studies during meditation, and a positive emotional response while watching ASMR videos.
Here’s what the researchers said about their findings:
The results from both studies — at both a self-report and physiological level — are consistent with the idea that ASMR is a pleasant, calming but also activating experience … Taken together, our studies provide empirical evidence to support anecdotal claims that ASMR is a tingling, pleasant feeling specific to some individuals, and that it has a distinct physiological profile from the experience of aesthetic chills. For the first time, we have found both self-reported and physiological evidence for the ASMR experience, when it is occurring in real-time.
While there is certainly more scientific research to be done in this field, these results strongly suggest that this is more than just an internet fad.
How Can ASMR Help With Language Learning?
Learning new things can be a challenging task, so any methods for mitigating the difficulty are greatly appreciated. In the past, we’ve looked at the potential for hypnosis to help with language learning. Let’s do the same with ASMR.
The short answer is that ASMR is no substitute for language-learning lessons, but there are numerous anecdotal indications of its ability to improve your focus, help you get more sleep and generally prime your mind for learning.
Dr. Richard believes ASMR can be used for educational purposes: “It may be that the calming effects of ASMR help some individuals to concentrate, rather than be distracted by stressful thoughts,” Dr. Richard says. “This should assist with any type of learning, including learning a language.”
A number of ASMRtists on YouTube have incorporated words and phrases from foreign languages into their videos. In some cases, this is because the words have a pleasant sound and are used as triggers, such as in the popular video below, in which Russian words are spoken softly for their soothing effect.
In other cases, the goal is to teach viewers a bit of the language using ASMR techniques. In the video below, an ASMRtist attempts to teach some basic French.
It doesn’t have a strong effect on everyone, but ASMR is certainly worth a try, and could eventually become another tool to add to your kit of language-learning supplements.