But, as Wired UK reported, there's another side to the subculture: Kids as young as 5 years old are making their own ASMR videos — and making good money in the process. Wired spoke with 13-year-old Makenna Kelly, who makes ASMR videos for the 1.3 million subscribers to her "Life with MaK" channel. In some of her most viewed videos, Makenna eats instant ramen noodles and glides makeup brushes over a microphone.
But it’s still a business, particularly for ASMRtists who hold to a strict programming schedule, solicit PayPal donations or offer one-on-one Skype sessions for a fee. Maria declined to specify her income but says that she holds a part-time administrative job and doesn’t earn enough from online ads to make a living off her videos alone — mainly because she doesn’t want her vlogging to become an obligatory burden. She’ll post a new video once per week or once per month, depending on how busy she is.
“Our research studies consistently show that ASMR is a relaxing, calming sensation that increases feelings of social connectedness,” Giulia Poerio (a co-author of the study), told Newsweek. “Importantly, we found that ASMR videos produce significant reductions in heart rate in people who experience ASMR. So we now have more objective evidence of the idea that ASMR is relaxing. It’s not just people telling us that ASMR makes them feel relaxed—their physiology is telling us the same thing too.”
Plus, it’s logistically difficult to study a phenomenon that requires quiet and prefers solitude. As Smith points out, fMRI machines are noisy and EEG tests (which Smith’s team also tried) involve attaching “goop and sensors” to the scalp, potentially interfering with the ability to feel tingles. As Smith puts it, “the tools we have are not relaxing.”
wow. I never knew what that feeling was called until now. I’ve kept it to myself all of these years because I was never sure how to talk about it. I discovered mine in kindergarten when a girl traced her finger along a page. I can experience ASMR pretty much whenever I want now. for me, it’s a combination of sound and motion. for some reason, an Indian accent triggers it very easily. it’s an amazing feeling. I’m curious, does anyone know if there are any health pros or cons with ASMR? have any studies been done?
The left side of Makenna Kelly’s bedroom is just like any other child’s. Her silver and white bedspread matches a feature wall, she has a dresser with her own TV and her nickname – “Kenna” – is spelled out in wooden letters above the window. On the right side of her room, however, things are less ordinary. There are three professional studio lights and a tripod, a silver plaque congratulating her on 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a framed letter from Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO. Sellotaped on the closet door is the fan mail.
“There needs to be a careful balance between skepticism and open-mindedness when investigating ASMR,” the Sheffield group say. “There is also of course the danger that ASMR videos get picked up by people who might try and use them to market pseudoscience or mental health benefits (without the evidence to support it), and inadvertently spread misinformation about it, which would of course damage the reputation of any genuine research going on,” they add. We’ve already started to see cases of this – just this week, in an interview with the Daily Mail, ASMR video producer Lauren Ostrowksi Fenton claimed that the sensation is produced by oxytocin, which she refers to as “the cuddle hormone, the hugging hormone, or the feel-good hormone”. Besides the fact that there’s simply no evidence that oxytocin is responsible for the sensation, the science behind the claim that oxytocin is a “hug hormone” is itself extremely weak.
Kelly knows that she inspires other kids to take up ASMR – children at school ask for advice on how to make popular YouTube videos. At one football game recently, kids swamped Kelly for photos. “It was like… crazy,” Kelly whispers dramatically. “I went with friends and we walked past this group of cheerleaders and they all got quiet. They came up one after another and were like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’”
“The reason people can get tingles and feel relaxed and comforted listening to Maria GentleWhispering is because she’s acting very much the way a parent would care for you,” he says, “with the caring glances, gentle speech and soothing hand movements. And a lot of the time she’s doing simulated touching. It’s pattern recognition. Our brains recognize the pattern of someone with a caring glance, someone with a gentle whisper, and we find that comforting.”
The study is still ongoing, and results have not yet been published. But for his part, Richard has been developing a theory of what ASMR is and why it exists. His theory isn't exactly scientific, but it is beautiful: He notes that the quality that underlies almost all ASMR videos is what’s been called a “tranquil, womb-like intimacy.” That is, ASMRtists speak softly into the ears of headphone-wearing viewers, gently coaxing them to sleep by way of assiduous personal attention, comforting words, smiles and simulated stroking. At its most essential level, Richard believes, all the intimacy channeled through towel foldings and whispered affection is about triggering the felt experience of being loved.
1. Do you have different reactions depending on who is the source of the sound? For example, I have very distinctive reactions, i.e. if someone from my relatives does the mouth sounds, I get irritated and at times even angry. I even leave the kitchen if I hear my relatives making the sounds while eating. Purely biological, can’t explain it. The sounds are unpleasant for me. But if a random person or someone I barely know from an opposite sex does the mouth sounds, I can get ASMR or pleasurable feelings.
While most girls her age earned their pocket money babysitting the neighbours’ kids, Kelly spent that summer in her bedroom filming 50 custom-made ASMR videos. She would receive daily email requests for bespoke videos, shoot the footage, receive the money over PayPal (ten minutes cost $50, whereas for $30 (about £23) you’d get a five-minute clip) and upload the video to her YouTube channel, Life with Mak.
But it’s hard to follow hype. And though critics also loved Drenge’s 2015 followup, Undertow, they seemed to fall off my radar for a moment. In current music terms, four years is a long time away—which, of course, is hilarious, especially considering how much of that time they spent pouring their energy into touring. On Strange Creatures they’re more prone to flattening the reverby, more spaced-out vocals of Undertow, kicking the urgency back into their work. Now, their voices cut through more directly on tracks like opener “Bonfire for the City Boys” and as-yet unreleased track “Teenage Love.” They’re sounding both experimental and limbered up, ready to experiment—making a fake ASMR video shows, if nothing else, their playful streak.
Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those like the sound of rain, fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crushing of eggshells, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, or writing. Many YouTube videos that are intended to trigger ASMR responses capture a single person performing these actions and the sounds that result.