Do you ever find yourself scrolling through your Instagram feed and stopping at a video post only to zone out and stare endlessly at someone mixing colors of paint, squishing slime with their fingers, or precisely slicing a cube of kinetic sand until the slices tip over and fall perfectly to the side? I don’t know about you, but I definitely do. In fact, it was me procrastinating writing this blog post by scrolling through Instagram that gave me the inspiration for this post! I saw a video of paint colors being smoothly mixed together and began to wonder: what is it about these kinds of videos that people find so mesmerizing and #oddlysatisfying?
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is link to an HOUR long YouTube video titled “The Most Satisfying Video In The World ★ Unbelievable things ★ Life Awesome ★ 1 Hour Compilation”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzGXKRhO3Ok)
I was planning on inserting some #satisfying gifs in right here, but I can’t figure out how to do that, so here is a link to “The 29 Most Satisfying GIFs In The World”: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicamisener/so-so-satisfying for your viewing pleasure.
A quick search of #oddlysatisfying on Instagram reveals 1.7 million posts and #satisfyingvideos has 2.2 million posts. You can also find these types of videos on Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and in many articles on pages like Buzzfeed and the variety of things that people consider satisfying is seemingly never-ending. There are videos of people writing calligraphy in fluid and perfect swoops, pretty paint colors being smoothly mixed together, things fitting perfectly into place, stickers being peeled off and coming off in one perfect sheet, hot knives slicing through plastic toys like butter, frosting being pipetted onto a cake, bars of soap being shaved into thin slices; the list goes on and on. There are literally so many different types of videos that its beginning to to feel pointless to try to describe them all, so heres a few gifs to give you a quick taste of the possibilities.
The sheer number and variety of these types of videos on the internet got me to thinking, what is it about them that people find so satisfying and pleasureable? Can it be explained by psychology? And why does my brain feel so soothed by this video of random dirt covered objects being powerwashed until they look like new? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m_27_0nWKY And what makes certain people much more drawn to these videos and certain things satisfying to some people but not others? While there hasn’t been tons of scientific research on this specific phenomenon, it turns out there are a variety of theories and psychological concepts that might help to explain this satisfying phenomenon.
An essential aspect of oddly satisfying videos is the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). ASMR, while often used to describe YouTube videos with super nigh sound quality that feature people softly whispering into a microphone or tapping their nails on a surface making it feel like they are tapping right onto your brain, is actually the sensory response that occurs in some people in response to these videos. ASMR is “an atypical sensory phenomenon involving electrostatic-like tingling sensations in response to a certain sensory stimuli” (Barratt et al., 2017). In one study of the common triggers of ASMR, lower-pitched, complex sounds and slow-paced detail-focused videos were found to be the best triggers, while background music tended to inhibit ASMR responses (Barratt et al., 2017). Pleasurable ASMR responses to satisfying videos could explain one reason why some people find them so pleasing and relaxing.
Personality traits might also play a role in determining who does or does not like satisfying videos. Fredborg et al. (2017) found that individuals who exhibited ASMR scored significantly higher on the Big-Five personality traits of Openness-to-Experience and Neuroticism, and significantly lower on Conscienctousness, Extraversion and Agreeableness, suggesting that people who are more anxious but also more imaginative, curious and open-minded are more likely to find these videos pleasing.
Mirror neurons (neurons that become active both when you perform an action, and when you observe another person performing that same action) might also be involved in explaining why people find slime mixing and paint videos so mesmerizing. Because of mirror neurons, watching disembodied hands press their fingers into a squishy glob of slime could lead to the same satisfied feelings as if you yourself were doing it.
Additionally, theories suggest that the appeal of oddly satisfying videos might be related in a variety of ways to dealing with emotions and stress. Previous research has found that people seek out forms of media that either help them ignore negative feelings or reinforce positive ones (Oliver & Raney, 2011; Kim & Oliver, 2012). Mood management theory is another idea that suggests that when we watch or take in certain forms of media repeatedly, we start to associate the media with how it makes us feel, which could help explain why types of videos that we find satisfying, relaxing, and de-stressing might become more and more sought after, leading to the huge expansion in the number of satsifying videos on the internet in recent years.
Some other theories suggest a connection to preferences for beauty and completion that might be related to evolution. A common theme throughout many of the satisfying videos is a sense of symmetry and completion. Research suggests that facial symmetry is attractive, and this preference might have been evolutionarily influenced (Rhodes et al., 1998). In this way, the human brain might show a preference for symmetry in other non-facial stimuli as well.
After considering all these theories, it makes more sense as to why I sometimes find myself staring mindlessly at satisfying videos when I am procrastinating doing my homework. Our brain likely responds to them on a very basic neuronal level, evolutionarily-influenced predispositions towards beauty and organization might help explain why we like them, and they can be helpful in mood regulation and elicit feelings of happiness and relaxation. It is interesting to consider how the internet and social media, which are major causes of stress in our lives, have also produced the phenomenon of #oddlysatisfying that can help to relax and reduce stress. As one author of an article I read put it, perhaps a little bit melodramatically, “Oddly Satisfying was one of the few corners of the internet that didn’t make me want to cry and never stop” (Matchar, 2019).
Barratt, E. L., Spence, C., & Davis, N. J. (2017). Sensory determinants of the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR): Understanding the triggers. PeerJ,5. doi:10.7717/peerj.3846
Fredborg, B., Clark, J., & Smith, S. D. (2017). An Examination of Personality Traits Associated with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). Frontiers in Psychology,8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00247
Kim, J., & Oliver, M. B. (2013). How Do We Regulate Sadness Through Entertainment Messages? Exploring Three Predictions. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media,57(3), 374-391. doi:10.1080/08838151.2013.816708
Matchar, E. (2019, February 22). Finding What’s ‘Oddly Satisfying’ on the Internet. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/22/opinion/sunday/oddly-satisfying-videos-internet.html
Oliver, M. B., & Raney, A. A. (2011). Entertainment as Pleasurable and Meaningful: Identifying Hedonic and Eudaimonic Motivations for Entertainment Consumption. Journal of Communication,61(5), 984-1004. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01585.x
Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J. M., & Sumich, A. (1998). Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,5(4), 659-669. doi:10.3758/bf03208842