Many babies and children are instantly soothed by a gentle caress on their cheek or soft singing in their ear. Although science has yet to prove it, this calming experience might actually have a name.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a physical sensation characterized by a tingling feeling that typically starts at the scalp and then travels down the spine. It can be triggered via auditory, visual, or touch stimuli that causes the body to respond in a way that calms the central nervous system.
Think of the goosebumps you might get when someone whispers into your ear. That’s ASMR.
Most experts attribute ASMR’s relaxing sensations to the release of endorphins, a chemical in the brain that leads to feelings of happiness. The triggers are different for every person – whispering, tapping, scratching, page turning – but they’re most commonly associated with adults. We’re only now discovering that children experience ASMR, too. And the benefits could be profound.
According to Dr. Craig Richard, an ASMR researcher, Biopharmaceutical Sciences professor, and ASMR University founder, kids are benefiting from real-world ASMR all the time. “My mother used to put me to sleep by gently touching the inside of my forearm. I think something similar is happening all over the world as parents lovingly soothe children with soft touches, gentle whispers, and caring gazes.”
Dr. Richard believes ASMR is our brain’s heightened way of letting us know we are safe and in the presence of people who care for us. Studies have shown that being cared for in a loving way is beneficial to mental and physical development. So, real-world ASMR, whether intentional or unintentional, should be very beneficial for children.
ASMR has already been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. A recent study also suggests that using ASMR as a background soundtrack, while studying or writing exams, can calm down anxious students and help them optimize their academic potential and creativity. The experience, however, usually starts at home.
Most parents have probably already introduced their child to ASMR without even knowing it, suggests Dr. Richard. “Soft touches, caring glances, focused attention, and gentle whispers are all hallmarks of caring parents and ASMR triggers. During the day, a child’s health is probably best served by receiving ASMR directly from loving people in their lives.”
He recommends supplementing real-world ASMR with virtual ASMR via online videos for additional benefits. Although more research is needed to find out how virtual ASMR can be optimized for healthy development.
A great place to start is on YouTube, where entire channels and playlists, such as WhispersRed and ASMR Angel, are devoted to kids. Toys, games, and images are woven together with songs, stories, and calming sounds. According to ASMR You Ready, “This content is not only relaxing children, and their frazzled parents, but allows them to pause and unwind, thus acting as a gentle gateway into the bedtime routine.”
Another healthy way to introduce your child to virtual or recorded ASMR may be for you to record yourself whispering or talking gently and then playing the recordings during bedtime while your child is falling asleep. “Virtual or recorded ASMR at nighttime should probably be audio-only, like most podcasts,” says Dr. Richard, “so screen light and interesting visuals do not detract from the tranquil and sleep-inducing ASMR trigger sounds.”
For daytime benefits, ASMR videos which blend learning would be most beneficial, Dr. Richard notes. “This may have been part of the appeal of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show. Mr Rogers had a very gentle and caring disposition, which was relaxing for viewers of all ages.”
While the experience of ASMR has yet to be proven, early research in this area indicates there could be significant benefits for all of us. So, it just might be worth whispering the next bedtime story to your child. Try it and seen what happens!
Have you introduced ASMR to your child? Do you experience this sensation?