ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a nonclinical term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who’s been involved in online organizing around ASMR since the late aughts. Allen, who works in cybersecurity, figured people couldn’t discuss the phenomenon unless it had a name—ideally, an official-sounding one, to lend legitimacy to a practice that can be embarrassing to share. Once ASMR had a name—and had been featured in a slew of can-you-believe-this news stories—academics became interested in pinning down what it was.
It’s not really a physical feeling if that makes sense, but there is a powerful reaction to the sounds nonetheless, to the point where I’m instinctively arching my neck, and a feeling does wash over you that is truly unique, almost addictive. What I don’t fully understand is why my mind chose just now to react when I haven’t had anything close to an ASMR experience before. I’d say that I’ve just found the right trigger, but I’m even reacting to videos that did nothing for me in the past. Like something clicked in my head recently.
"ASMR is not as odd as it sounds," said Burnie Burns, co-founder and chief creative officer of production company Rooster Teeth. "In the 90s we had CDs and audio tapes of rain forest sounds that many people used for relaxation purposes -- there just wasn't a fancy term to classify that media. Since online video has become a phenomenon, now we have a whole new generation of those kinds of ephemeral experiences created by people all over the world."
The writing in this article helped me understand ASMR, but the videos don't seem to be the best examples (it doesn't help that these examples aren't very long). The best examples of what they are talking about to me would have to be the crackling of a fire. Also, whispering in my ear gives me intense tingles, but part of that may be the vibrations off of my ear drum.
Best Satisfying ASMR: Though this channel was established less than a year ago, it has almost 2 million views. Their most popular video involves pressing a metal grate (akin to a cooling rack bakers use) into colored slime and pulling up. The stretching and drawing up produces a sound slightly different than the crunchy slime, but still sensational to some.
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.
I would spend all Friday, Saturday drawing outlines with my 3 best friends, discussing art, colour and symmetry for hours, then spend all Saturday night bombing trains, painting together would activate it intensely, in the dark, spooky and exhilarating all at the same time, while four kids spent their weekends silently breaking the law to paint Top-to-Bottom Wholecars just for art’s sake)
Of course, Kelly — who was named one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21” in November 2018 — is not the only star in the ASMR internet community. The current largest ASMR artist, or “ASMRtist”, on YouTube, Taylor Darling, aka ASMR Darling, has two million subscribers and earns an estimated $1,000 a day in advertising revenue. Global megabrands such as IKEA, Sony, McDonald’s and Toyota have now all created ASMR-inspired adverts, and in October 2018, platinum rapper Cardi B made an ASMR video that went on to be viewed nearly 10,000,000 times. It’s no longer surprising that 75 per cent of children want to be YouTubers, but these kids don’t want to be the next beauty-blogging Zoella or game-streaming PewDiePie. They want to be the next brain-tingling ASMR Darling.
Seven years later, ASMR is having a pop culture moment—even if many of those who use it don’t know what the acronym stands for. The phenomenon’s most popular practitioners have more than half a million subscribers, and the doyenne of ASMRrtists, Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR, has been so successful that she’s been able to quit her job to role-play soothing cosmetologists, librarians and flight attendants full-time. But what is ASMR? What function does it serve, who is drawn to it, and why? Or, as researcher Craig Richard puts it: “Why are millions of people watching someone fold a napkin?”
I attribute it to my son in spirit being present. It didn’t happen to me until after he died. I can’t control it and comes at random times, I’m not able to pinpoint it. It comes in every quadrant of my head at various times of the day and some day’s only a few times. Lately it’s often and much stronger. I thought perhaps because we are within several weeks of first anniversary of his death.
Repetitive behaviors that are connected to the sense of touch can also be very soothing for some people, Saltz says, which may be why people like to massage their own slime for ASMR or watch videos of someone doing the action to elicit the memory of doing it themselves. Children can be soothed by repetitive motions, like massaging slime or Play-Doh, and that doesn’t necessarily change over a person’s lifetime, Saltz says.
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.