Some ASMR video creators use binaural recording techniques to simulate the acoustics of a three-dimensional environment, reported to elicit in viewers and listeners the experience of being in close proximity to actor and vocalist. Binaural recordings are usually made using two microphones, just like stereo recordings. However, in binaural recordings the two microphones tend to be more specially designed to mimic ears on humans. In many cases, microphones are separated the same distance as ears are on humans, and microphones are surrounded by ear-shaped cups to get similar reverb as human ears.
To date, only one research paper has been published on the phenomenon. In March last year, Emma Barratt, a graduate student at Swansea University, and Dr Nick Davis, then a lecturer at the same institution, published the results of a survey of some 500 ASMR enthusiasts. “ASMR is interesting to me as a psychologist because it’s a bit ‘weird’” says Davis, now at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The sensations people describe are quite hard to describe, and that’s odd because people are usually quite good at describing bodily sensation. So we wanted to know if everybody’s ASMR experience is the same, and of people tend to be triggered by the same sorts of things.”
The areas that typically work together weren’t firing together as much. Instead, other areas of the brain were getting more involved than usual—areas related to a visual network, for instance. These differences suggest “that instead of having distinct brain networks the way you or I would, there was more of a blending of these networks,” says Smith, who studies the neuroscience of emotion. “It does make intuitive sense that a condition associated with atypical sensory association and atypical emotional association would have different wiring in the brain.”
"We believe technology presents great opportunities for young people to express themselves creatively and access useful information, but we also know we have a responsibility to protect young creators and families and consider the potential impact of emerging trends on them. We've been working with experts to update our enforcement guidelines for reviewers to remove ASMR videos featuring minors engaged in more intimate or inappropriate acts. We are working alongside experts to make sure we are protecting young creators while also allowing ASMR content that connects creators and viewers in positive ways."
It now drives an entire industry on YouTube, where video artists rack up millions of views filming an array of audio and visual triggers for their viewers: They whisper, tap their fingers, flip through pages of a book, play with slime, slurp up noodles, make “mouth sounds” and even role-play scenarios like a spa visit or a doctor’s appointment — anything to evoke the sensation.
In the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR, published in Perspectives in Biology in summer 2013, Nitin Ahuja, who was at the time of publication a medical resident at the University of Virginia, invited conjecture on whether the receipt of simulated medical attention might have some tangible therapeutic value for the recipient, comparing the purported positive outcome of clinical role play ASMR videos with the themes of the novel Love in the Ruins by author and physician Walker Percy, published in 1971.