The French word 'frisson' signifies a brief sensation usually reported as pleasurable and often expressed as an overwhelming emotional response to stimuli, such as a piece of music. Frisson often occurs simultaneously with piloerection, colloquially known as 'goosebumps', by which tiny muscles called arrector pili contract, causing body hair, particularly that on the limbs and back of the neck, to erect or 'stand on end'.
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Because this phenomenon was only recently given a name, the science backing it up is virtually nonexistent. Of the minimal research, one study published in PeerJ found that ASMR results in “temporary improvements in symptoms of depression and chronic pain,” while another study published in the International Journal of School & Educational Psychology determined that the phenomenon can soothe stress and help insomniacs. Basically, ASMR makes people happy and healthy.
It might sound like a bafflingly bizarre way to spend time on the Internet. But for Maria’s viewers, her voice and movements hold a certain magic: They can instill tranquillity, overcome insomnia — and induce a mysterious physical sensation known as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, wherein the body is flooded with waves of euphoric tingles.
I got the tingling effect from the Ikea fire video, right at the parts where progress is seen being made towards a fire (The smoke being produced, the ashes, the smolders to the fire itself) and it is an incredible experience. I've also definitely had this experience before with haircuts, although I rather enjoy my hair long so it's a rarity that I get to feel it so often.
"ASMR videos tend to have low production costs, but have a massive replay-ability factor," Burns explained. "'Baba the Cosmic Barber's original head massage video has almost 10,000,000 views. Many of those views come from people who probably watch it several times a week to fall asleep. Ten million views is incredible for a video that costs less than fifty dollars to make."
Being only thirteen, a new year at school always brings the excitement that I might get a teacher with one of those perfectly soft ASMR-y voices. I've only had one, but luckily I had her for two grades (grade two and three) she came from Ireland, but didn't have too strong of an accent, just enough that it would always relax me. Dang I miss that class... LOL.
The bizarreness of this footage means ASMR isn’t without controversies. In June 2018, the Chinese government banned ASMR videos, branding them “vulgar” and “pornographic”. In August, PayPal began blocking the accounts of ASMRtists who received money to make custom videos (although the company later denied it has a policy against ASMR content). For those who don’t experience ASMR, the videos can seem fetishistic. Beyond the weirdness of whispering and making “mouth sounds” as in Kelly’s honeycomb video, some people nickname ASMR a “brain orgasm”.
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.”
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a curious phenomenon. Those who experience it often characterise it as a tingling sensation in the back of the head or neck, or another part of the body, in response to some sort of sensory stimulus. That stimulus could be anything, but over the past few years, a subculture has developed around YouTube videos, and their growing popularity was the focus of a video posted on the Guardian this last week. It’s well worth a watch, but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been a bit more interesting if there had been some scientific background in it. The trouble is, there isn’t actually much research on ASMR out there.
I frequently get seemingly random shivers throughout my body that last for a moment or two. To give these shivers some context, I was told this is what happens when "someone walks over your grave," (don't know if you guys have heard the expression?) Could these shivers be momentary glimpses of a real ASMR experience, or something else entirely? I've never really paid much attention to them before.
Neither Lee nor Skinner had a name for this sensation until recently. “I just thought it was a thing that everybody had,” Skinner says. The community that has sprung up around this specific physical sensation is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Internet-born and bred. It’s also sometimes called “Attention-Induced Euphoria,” though ASMR is the term that has caught on. According to Google, the term first showed up in 2011, increased in search popularity in 2012, and really took off this year.
The ASMR videos are easy to laugh at if you’re a casual observer–when I recently played one on my iPhone for guests at a dinner party, everyone cracked up within five seconds of watching the video. The videos usually include an attractive woman in a role-play scenario: She’s pretending to be an eye doctor, a makeup artist, or even checking hair for head lice. All videos are shot in first person, so the viewer appears to be alone in the room with the woman. And she’s usually whispering or speaking softly to you. It’s this combination of voice and the sounds from object interaction that the viewer hopes will trigger an ASMR experience.