“I just tried it because I thought it would help out my channel and it did, yeah,” Kelly says of her honeycomb video. When she started her channel in March 2018, Kelly made more traditional YouTube videos – filming herself applying make-up and eating different foreign snacks. “It was exciting,” she says of going viral, “because I was like, this could actually be my dream, I’ve always wanted a lot of subscribers.”
This image from video provided by Michelob shows a frame from their 2019 Super Bowl commercial for Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. The ad features the actress Zoe Kravitz using techniques for autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It is described as a tingly euphoric response, usually starting on the head and scalp, and sometimes spreading down the neck, arms or back. (Michelob ULTRA via AP)
Richard suggests that the “extreme relaxation” of ASMR may be the mirror image of panic attacks, residing at the far end of the relaxation spectrum. If, as his data so far shows, three-quarters of his subjects use ASMR videos to help them sleep, a third say the videos help them “feel less sad,” and smaller percentages use the videos to deal with diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression, ASMR could one day have therapeutic applications, he argues.
Even if the Internet has led researchers to the discovery of a previously unknown sensory phenomenon, there are still plenty of challenges ahead. There are many unanswered questions, like why only certain people experience ASMR, what percentage of the population they make up, and whether those who never have can be triggered to experience it. More immediately, there’s the ever-present challenge of getting funding to better understand an experience that still raises skepticism. Smith says that the term ASMR still “comes across as a little bit new-agey in the scientific world.”
She uploads once a week to her channel and every week of the month is a different style video. She does true crime ASMR, tapping and scratching, videos where she reads and ones where she opens up about her life. "People enjoy more whenever it’s just me sitting there talking and like eating, and I get to just be myself and people enjoy it, that's pretty cool,” she said.
But for the most part, the people running actual research studies on ASMR are optimistic about the future. And it bodes well that the first paper published on the sensation adhered to the principles of open science. “Psychology is going through a period of change, where we are looking at how good our methods are, and how reliable and reproducible our findings are,” Davis points out. “I don’t see research in this area as any different from other fields of psychology. We were very keen to be very open about our work, and we uploaded our complete data set so anyone can check our results, or find new things that we hadn’t considered. This sort of openness doesn’t solve every problem in psychology, but we thought it was a good start.”
But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling. Some people watch the videos to help them sleep at night. And even without the tingles, it is sort of relaxing, if you can get past the dissonance of someone whispering in your ear while you scroll through Twitter in your cubicle, or whatever.
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.