They scratch a special part of your brain.
The trends that dominate the TikTok FYP may never cease to amaze us. From relatable stories about “canon events” to inexplicable obsessions like NPC streamers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, no matter how niche it may be. That’s probably how those TikToks of bottles full of liquid, sand, and bouncy Orbeez balls tumbling down flights of stairs managed to become so popular, but that doesn’t explain why the videos have gone from being entertaining to straight-up soothing.
In fact, bottles rolling down stairs seem to have the same calming effects as other oddly satisfying genres, like ASMR and soap-cutting videos, despite being much less sonically and aesthetically pleasing. If you’ve watched more jars shatter on stairs than you can count, there might be a psychological explanation for your obsession.
According to Know Your Meme, the earliest known iteration of this content dates back to May 2022, when @lilloalencarr sent a glass jar of food flying down a stairwell. Though the trend remained prevalent for the rest of the year, it wasn’t until @mrgarr4fa began uploading ASMR bottle-rolling videos in May 2023 that the trend really took off, though this account no longer exists, Know Your Meme says.
Since then, the hashtag #bottledownthesteps has accrued over 34.2 million views as of Aug. 15, so it’s fair to say the target audience has been reached. The genre has even taken on a life of its own, with users providing commentary for every drop, or assigning Taylor Swift eras to each bottle based on their colors, what they’re filled with, how they roll down the stairs, and how they explode.
Founder of the website ASMR University, Craig Richard, Ph.D., explains there are three aspects of rolling bottle content that engage the human brain. What first catches a viewer’s attention is the physics behind the motion of the fall. According to the expert, watching something “non-human” move in such a way, like a Slinky, is undeniably entertaining. The next appeal is the unknown of when, how, or if the jar will break. “This creates curiosity and tension in the viewer,” says Richard. “The human brain enjoys watching something unpredictable.”
Finally, this genre offers the promise of a transformation, just like other forms of oddly satisfying content like hydraulic presses, dominos, and kinetic sand. You can thank the non-threatening nature of these transformations for relaxing your body while you watch. These videos might also fill you with a sense of calm because you perceive them to be informative, and as a result, your body is “telling you to stay because the moment may be beneficial,” Richard says.
Though Richard believes rolling-bottle videos fall under the oddly satisfying content umbrella, he says that genre is not the same as ASMR. For starters, the gentle sounds of ASMR are used to elicit a deeper feeling of relaxation, while the sound of glass breaking may stimulate an alert. There also needs to be a human element for something to be considered ASMR. Soap-cutting videos, for example, include footage of hands playing with soap, while bottle rolling is solely focused on the bottles and stairs.
If you want to unwind with some oddly satisfying content but aren’t sure whether ASMR or bottle-rolling videos are the way to go, Richard has a word of advice. “If someone wants a relaxing moment that engages the brain, then videos of glass containers on stairs can provide that,” the expert explains. “But if someone wants a deeper relaxing experience, that may even help them to fall asleep, then ASMR videos or ASMR podcasts can help.”
Craig Richard, Ph.D., founder of ASMR University and host of the Sleep Whispers and Calm History podcastsJillian Giandurco