Four months after Novella's blog post, Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive sciences at the University of Sheffield, was reported to have said that ASMR "might well be a real thing, but it's inherently difficult to research...something like this that you can't see or feel" and "doesn't happen for everyone". Stafford compared the current status of ASMR with development of attitudes toward synesthesia, which he said "for years...was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it".
In an era where social media fails to provide its users with a feeling of personal connection, ASMR steps in to bridge the gap. "The number one thing that we need as human beings an attachment. That's what it’s all about. We want to attach, we don't want to feel alone or isolated. Our body does that for us. So, when we feel good, we feel close, and we feel attached. So that's what the videos are tapping into on some level," she explained.
It's funny - for me some of these clips didn't quite work. But they sure did for my rabbit who listens to various forms of media - tv, radio, conference calls, me - most of the day. He usually is quite a passive listener and will only occasionally respond with ear turning or a change in position that shows he's listening to something different that has caught his attention.
Creators like Heather Feather are making videos that create the tingly ASMR effect. In fact, there are currently about 5.2 million ASMR videos on YouTube, and there is interest coming from all corners of the globe (see chart below). YouTube searches for ASMR grew over 200% YoY in 2015 and are consistently growing.3 On its own, a top ASMR video can garner over 16 million views.
However, Tony Ro, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said in an email that the University of Winnipeg study “is unfortunately not as revealing or informative as it could have been,” given its small size and the fact that researchers were measuring subjects at rest, rather than while experiencing ASMR. The resting state differences could be due to other factors, like higher rates of anxiety or depression, he says. Still, writes Ro, who researches synesthesia and has also been intrigued by ASMR for a few years, “I do think that ASMR may be a form of synesthesia.”
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)
Given that ASMR is open to misunderstanding and misconceptions, a healthy dose of scepticism is important for future research in the area. Anecdotally, the Sheffield group point out that some ASMR enthusiasts use the videos therapeutically, to help with symptoms of insomnia, anxiety or depression. This is echoed in the findings from Barratt and Davis’s survey; their data showed that, for people who scored as having moderate to severe depression, 69% reported using ASMR videos to help ease their symptoms, and generally reported a greater improvement in mood than individuals who were not depressed. But these are self-report measures, and further work needs to be done to pinpoint to what extent there may be an actual therapeutic effect.
I also happen to be able to trigger asmr at will pretty much instinctively; the intensity sometimes is weak though if i cant concentrate due to interference. The intensity is far greater than when it is caused by external stimuli though. Anyone alse capable of directing the feeling (always starts at the base of the skull for me) to parts of their body at will??
“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.”
Even so, because she’s a woman who puts her face on the Internet, Maria does get some unsavory comments sometimes. But she also gets thankful, heartfelt messages from people who’ve found some comfort in her videos. She told me she keeps a folder called “Gratitude” on her computer filled with these messages, that she reads before she makes her videos.
One part of that forage into “Deep Baby Brain” involves introducing you to ‘YouTuber’ CuteKid4950, and his tub of Strange Creatures goo. He starts off with the usual setup, doing his piece to camera before getting out the gunk. But then… things get weird. “Expanding upon the YouTube infotainment vlog format,” Drenge said, “CuteKid4950 takes us from kitchen to basement to warehouse to cave and emerges unscathed and enlightened. We can see the time and space properties of the real world crumble into insignificance. Unusual patterns emerge. Colours and shapes of forgotten solar systems reveal themselves amid the paint and the goo. This is more than something to keep you lightly amused. People will tell you that you are mad. They will try to denounce you. Ignore them. Let history be the judge.”
According to Setz, this citation generally alludes to the effectiveness of the human voice and soft or whispered vocal sounds specifically as a trigger of ASMR for many of those who experience it, as demonstrated by the responsive comments posted to YouTube videos that depict someone speaking softly or whispering, typically directly to camera.