Among the category of intentional ASMR videos that simulate the provision of personal attention is a subcategory of those specifically depicting the "ASMRtist" providing clinical or medical services, including routine general medical examinations. The creators of these videos make no claims to the reality of what is depicted, and the viewer is intended to be aware that they are watching and listening to a simulation, performed by an actor. Nonetheless, many subjects attribute therapeutic outcomes to these and other categories of intentional ASMR videos, and there are voluminous anecdotal reports of their effectiveness in inducing sleep for those susceptible to insomnia, and assuaging a range of symptoms including those associated with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
This is Maria, a 28-year-old Russian expat in suburban Maryland, starring in a YouTube video that has been viewed more than 7 million times. Hundreds of thousands of Maria’s devotees return again and again to listen to her hushed whispers as she assumes simulated roles — librarian, hairstylist, masseuse — and performs simple motions: folding towels, blowing smoke from an incense burner, flipping through the pages of a magazine.
Binaural recordings are made specifically to be heard through headphones rather than loudspeakers. When listening to sound through loudspeakers, the left and right ear can both hear the sound coming from both speakers. By distinction, when listening to sound through headphones, the sound from the left earpiece is audible only to the left ear, and the sound from the right ear piece is audible only to the right ear. When producing binaural media, the sound source is recorded by two separate microphones, placed at a distance comparable to that between two ears, and they are not mixed, but remain separate on the final medium, whether video or audio.
Barratt and Davis don’t see their study as a complete story; rather, it’s a foot in the door for researchers interested in studying the phenomenon. “We hope our work will provide a platform for more sophisticated work in the future, but we saw it as a starting point,” explains Davis. The next step, ideally, is to start trying to pin down the physiological basis of the sensation.
“We found that people who experience ASMR showed significant reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants,” Poerio explains, “These reductions are comparable to other stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and music therapy.” Poerio says this finding is crucial because reduced heart rates prove people who enjoy ASMR are not sexually aroused.
Richard, who is also the author of Brain Tingles: The Secret to Triggering Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for Improved Sleep, Stress Relief, and Head-to-Toe Euphoria, estimates around 20 per cent of the population experience strong ASMR. What triggers people may come down to individual preferences. “The key to triggering ASMR is to create gentle sounds,” he says. Richard’s own triggers include eye exams and [the Netflix series] The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.
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.”
Every Empath is different but I have not seen a common theme between all the ones I know. I myself have a really weird experience with this (as Empaths normally do with everything). I listen to ASMR every night for about 6 months with no reactions until one random day. Now I get it very occasionally with no pattern in sight. I do know Empaths who get it with basically every video they watch and some who just find the sounds of asmr creepy and do not get the tingle at all.
She has invested in her craft, upgrading to top-notch binaural microphones that carry every exhale into a listener’s ears as if Maria is standing beside them. Her videos, like most ASMR recordings, are undeniably intimate. But the intended response — although often described as “brain orgasms” — is not sexual, ASMR enthusiasts insist. (Unsurprisingly, a few of the creepier online comments insist otherwise.)
But it’s hard to follow hype. And though critics also loved Drenge’s 2015 followup, Undertow, they seemed to fall off my radar for a moment. In current music terms, four years is a long time away—which, of course, is hilarious, especially considering how much of that time they spent pouring their energy into touring. On Strange Creatures they’re more prone to flattening the reverby, more spaced-out vocals of Undertow, kicking the urgency back into their work. Now, their voices cut through more directly on tracks like opener “Bonfire for the City Boys” and as-yet unreleased track “Teenage Love.” They’re sounding both experimental and limbered up, ready to experiment—making a fake ASMR video shows, if nothing else, their playful streak.
“When a newborn is born, the sensation that is the most developed and they receive the most information through is touch, and the one that’s least developed is sight,” he says. Parents show infants love most of all through touch, he argues—coddling, stroking—and all of this helps explain why ASMR is, at its best, an in-person experience with echoes of childhood experiences.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. This tingle is said to originate in a person’s head and spread to the spine (and sometimes the limbs) in response to stimulation. The stimuli that trigger ASMR vary from person to person. Some of the most common ones include whispers, white noise, lip smacking, having a person’s complete attention (as in having one’s hair cut by a hairdresser), as well as brushing, chewing, tapping, scratching, whispering, and crinkling.
On 12 March 2012, Steven Novella, Director of General Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, published a post about ASMR on his blog Neurologica. Regarding the question of whether ASMR is a real phenomeonon, Novella said "in this case, I don't think there is a definitive answer, but I am inclined to believe that it is. There are a number of people who seem to have independently experienced and described" it with "fairly specific details. In this way it's similar to migraine headaches – we know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history." Novella tentatively posited the possibilities that ASMR might be either a type of pleasurable seizure, or another way to activate the "pleasure response". However, Novella drew attention to the lack of scientific investigation into ASMR, suggesting that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation technologies should be used to study the brains of people who experience ASMR in comparison to people who do not, as a way of beginning to seek scientific understanding and explanation of the phenomenon.
Richard and his team ask participants to rank the way they’d most prefer to experience ASMR, if YouTube weren’t the only option. (Data from the Swansea University study shows most people have their first ASMR experiences as children, through real-life interactions with family and friends.) “Receiving light touches with my eyes closed” ranked first; sound triggers were below and visual ones lower still—an echo, Richards says, of how the senses develop in human beings.
These reports have precipitated comparison between ASMR and synesthesia – a condition characterised by the excitation of one sensory modality by stimuli that normally exclusively stimulates another, as when the hearing of a specific sound induces the visualization of a distinct color, a type of synesthesia called chromesthesia. Thereby, people with other types of synesthesia report for example 'seeing sounds' in the case of auditory-visual synesthesia, or 'tasting words' in the case of lexical-gustatory synesthesia.
Most importantly for Hunnicutt, Aoki seems to love making videos. Like most five-year-olds, she loves trying on her mother’s lipsticks, but unlike most five-year-olds, Aoki was encouraged to rummage in her mum’s make-up bag – and a camera captured the results. “I put all the lipstick on!” Aoki grins, explaining this video was her favourite to make.
The website for ASMRtist United looks remarkably like it was created by a child – which it was. Founded in August 2017 by 14-year-old Jacob Daniel, the “company” offers advice to ASMRtists under the age of 18. There is a guide on how to filter sexual comments, advice on coping with cyberbullying and a post entitled “How do I stop my school from finding my channel?”.
There is little scientific research on the phenomenon—the first scientific paper on it was published on the open-access journal PeerJ in 2015. That study had nearly 500 people who subscribed to Facebook or Reddit ASMR groups fill out a questionnaire about their online ASMR habits and why they engaged in them. Most people said they watched the videos to help them relax, de-stress, and get to sleep. (Only five percent said they watch the videos for sexual reasons.)
The pennies from the jar were spread flat between us on the concrete. With each penny my uncle helped me count, he would say the numbers out loud and gently slide the penny across the concrete to the “counted” pile with his thick index finger. My uncle was a giant of a man: 6-foot-4 and almost 400 pounds, with a naturally gruff voice. He was also a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and because of his condition and the medication he took to treat it, he spoke slowly, stretching out most words in deep, gentle tones.
Daniel and Prunkl keep a folder full of this man’s transgressions and have notified the local police. “Sometimes it scares me,” Daniel confesses, quieter now. “It does scare me that this guy could be anywhere.” Similarly, Makenna Kelly fears that kids at her bus stop will follow her home and leak her address online. “I just go down to the clubhouse and wait ten minutes just to make sure nobody knows where I live.”
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.
ASMR is usually precipitated by stimuli referred to as 'triggers'. ASMR triggers, which are most commonly auditory and visual, may be encountered through the interpersonal interactions of daily life. Additionally, ASMR is often triggered by exposure to specific audio and video. Such media may be specially made with the specific purpose of triggering ASMR or originally created for other purposes and later discovered to be effective as a trigger of the experience.