"Basically, it feels like the amazing chills you get when someone plays with your hair or traces your back with their fingertips," says Heather Feather, a popular "ASMRtist" with nearly 400,000 YouTube subscribers. The dulcet tones of famed soft-spoken painter Bob Ross are among the most common ASMR triggers. Indeed, "Bob Ross" is among the terms most frequently associated with ASMR—and so are "Heather Feather" and "GentleWhispering," another top ASMRtist on YouTube.
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?”.
The video was designed for people who experience “ASMR”. Short for “autonomous sensory meridian response”, ASMR is a euphoric feeling certain people get from specific auditory stimuli. Those who experience it have different triggers – such as whispering, chewing or tapping – and also experience different bodily responses; some feel tingles, others become incredibly relaxed.
Have you ever had a pleasing reaction to something but were unable to articulate how it makes you feel because it makes absolutely no sense? For example, I love the smell of freshly opened tennis balls. I am fully aware that the smell shouldn’t be great, it’s hardly enticing on paper. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s a musky, muddy, petroleum, rubbery odor. Sounds great, huh? Interestingly, there is a fraction of the population who, like me, loves this smell.
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.”
The study asked a range of questions about where, when and why people watch ASMR videos, whether there was any consistency in ASMR-triggering content, as well as whether individuals felt it had any effect on their mood. There was a remarkable consistency across participants in terms of triggering content – whispering worked for the majority of people, followed by videos involving some sort of personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. For the most part, participants reported that they watched ASMR videos for relaxation purposes, or to help them sleep or deal with stress. Only 5% of participants reported that they used ASMR media for sexual stimulation, which is counter to a common perception of the videos found online. “There are a lot of people who latch onto some ASMR videos involving attractive women and dismiss what we found to be a very nuanced activity as exclusively sexual. Our findings will hopefully dispel that idea,” explains Barratt. “The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person,” adds Davis.
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.
I’ve had this my whole life. I was ecstatic to find there was a name for it and other people that might understand it! I love it but it also bothers me when I can’t stay awake in a library or even a store sometimes if there is a trigger sound near me. I have slept through much of school and fallen asleep on the job (usually during breaks) from work environment sounds since my first job. I keep reading about the great side of ASMR but there is also this annoying one. I probably wouldn’t trade it in though!

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.
In 2012, Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine wrote a blog post about ASMR, asking “the most basic question—is it real? In this case I don’t think there is a definitive answer, but I am inclined to believe that it is… 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.” He goes on to speculate as to what ASMR could be—possibly small seizures, or “just a way of activating the pleasure response.”
If you’re not one of Payton’s 443,000 subscribers, then you’re probably currently asking yourself something along the lines of, “Why the heck do people want to watch someone eat a pickle?” The answer, quite simply, is ASMR: or autonomous sensory meridian response. This term is used to describe the sensation, normally a tingling, that people get in response to an auditory or visual cue (like someone eating a pickle). It’s been described as a type of auditory-tactile synesthesia, and it can be triggered by everything from whispering to the crinkling of wrapping paper. The term was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, the founder of the first Facebook group for people who experience the phenomenon, and it has been referred to as ASMR ever since.
Emotionally, Kelly and Daniel seem equipped to deal with this backlash (Aoki Hunnicutt remains blissfully unaware of any negativity, and also much else about YouTube fame – at one point during our interview, she asks with concern, “Mummy, I thought we were going to do an interview?”). Yet while they are fine with their fame, it may trouble the young stars to lose it.
I’ve had this my whole life. I was ecstatic to find there was a name for it and other people that might understand it! I love it but it also bothers me when I can’t stay awake in a library or even a store sometimes if there is a trigger sound near me. I have slept through much of school and fallen asleep on the job (usually during breaks) from work environment sounds since my first job. I keep reading about the great side of ASMR but there is also this annoying one. I probably wouldn’t trade it in though!
The first study to perform actual brain imaging (fMRI) on subjects currently experiencing ASMR tingles (as opposed to individuals who were merely able to experience the phenomenon) was published in BioImpacts in September 2018. Subjects viewed several ASMR videos with a screen and headphones while inside the MRI scanner. The study found a significant difference in brain activation between time periods when the subject reported tingling (communicated by pressing a button), as compared to time periods when they were watching a video but not reporting tingling (communicated by pressing a different button, to control for brain activation effects caused by merely pressing a button). They concluded that "the brain regions found most active during the tingling sensations were the nucleus accumbens, mPFC, insula and secondary somatosensory cortex", and suggested that these were similar to "activation of brain regions previously observed during experiences like social bonding and musical frisson".[29]

My main trigger is watching someone concentrating silently on a mundane task (writing, drawing, ironing, cleaning, doing a puzzle) and them not being aware that I am aware of what they are doing. I also find sometimes that having a haircut can produce the same sensation. I also find that the feeling can sometimes be accentuated by gently rubbing the back of my neck with something like a pen or the end of my glasses. I haven’t yet found a video that works as a trigger – it needs to be there for real and even then doesn’t and won’t happen “on demand”.
“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.”
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.
In a 2012 blog post, Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, compared ASMR to migraine headaches — “We know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” he wrote — and theorized that ASMR could even be a type of “pleasurable” seizure.
ASMR can vary from person to person because it’s all about perception, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells SELF. “We all perceive experience in a different way even though it is the same experience,” he explains. For example, while one person may find the sound of someone typing comforting (if, say, they had a parent who worked on a computer at home), others may associate the sound with office work and become more stressed when they hear it.
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.

The left side of Makenna Kelly’s bedroom is just like any other child’s. Her silver and white bedspread matches a feature wall, she has a dresser with her own TV and her nickname – “Kenna” – is spelled out in wooden letters above the window. On the right side of her room, however, things are less ordinary. There are three professional studio lights and a tripod, a silver plaque congratulating her on 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a framed letter from Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO. Sellotaped on the closet door is the fan mail.
ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is still a relatively new creation. It describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds. What kind of visual or audio clips can create such a lovely feeling? It might surprise you, but the videos are of people doing incredibly simple, quiet, calming tasks, such as folding towels, brushing their hair, or flipping magazine pages. You might hear someone’s voice speaking in the background of the video, but not always. The audio clips often consist of voices whispering nice things (like "You are appreciated"), or contain the sound of tapping, scratching, or rain.

Smith speculates that ASMR may be similar to synesthesia, the fascinating neurological condition in which people see numbers in color and “taste” shapes. “In synesthesia,” he says, “there have been some studies that show there’s slightly atypical wiring in the brain that leads to slightly different sensory associations, and I think that may be the same thing we have here.”
The term ASMR was coined by a woman named Jennifer Allen in 2010. It was around that time that she ran across a group of people on a steadyhealth.com forum who described a sensation she herself had experienced, but which no one seemed to understand well. Frustrated by the lack of community organization on that forum, she created a Facebook group called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Group. The group name was one that she believed captured the key characteristics of what’s now known as ASMR. She wanted to create a community that would bring together people who had also been experiencing this sensation. She consciously created a term that she felt people would be comfortable using: one that sounded objective, clinical, and impersonal. Soon after, a worldwide community began to take shape.
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.
My sensations occur randomly and normally while I am sitting at the computer browsing the net, reading email, or playing my favorite games. I have not noticed a specific trigger and therefore have become concerned that it might be symptomatic of an underlying medical disorder… pending heart attack, diabetic neuropathy or a sinus irritation. I finally chose the correct key words to get Google to lead me here. I just downloaded the book so haven’t read it yet.
If you’re not one of Payton’s 443,000 subscribers, then you’re probably currently asking yourself something along the lines of, “Why the heck do people want to watch someone eat a pickle?” The answer, quite simply, is ASMR: or autonomous sensory meridian response. This term is used to describe the sensation, normally a tingling, that people get in response to an auditory or visual cue (like someone eating a pickle). It’s been described as a type of auditory-tactile synesthesia, and it can be triggered by everything from whispering to the crinkling of wrapping paper. The term was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, the founder of the first Facebook group for people who experience the phenomenon, and it has been referred to as ASMR ever since.
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”.

“There needs to be a careful balance between skepticism and open-mindedness when investigating ASMR,” the Sheffield group say. “There is also of course the danger that ASMR videos get picked up by people who might try and use them to market pseudoscience or mental health benefits (without the evidence to support it), and inadvertently spread misinformation about it, which would of course damage the reputation of any genuine research going on,” they add. We’ve already started to see cases of this – just this week, in an interview with the Daily Mail, ASMR video producer Lauren Ostrowksi Fenton claimed that the sensation is produced by oxytocin, which she refers to as “the cuddle hormone, the hugging hormone, or the feel-good hormone”. Besides the fact that there’s simply no evidence that oxytocin is responsible for the sensation, the science behind the claim that oxytocin is a “hug hormone” is itself extremely weak.
But Roleplay itself is not that big a trigger, it is mainly just the tapping that would trigger it, haircuts maybe but the type I like are rare on youtube. Roleplay asmr just helps fill the social or behavioral voids in my life. I have a very idealistic sense of romance so a lot of the RP’s help with that. I have a weird obsession in researching sadomasochism and the masochism aspect is easily found in asmr that is similar to a Yandere or Vampire RP. The sadism I get filled from games even though no one expects that from a guy who apologizes as he passes by someone and without inconveniencing them. And in many cases people are just sort of getting sick of this commercialized “physical world” so I am not that alone in seeking fantasy settings. Out of the 10 most popular movies of 2016 in america 9 of them were fantasy.
As a penny slid across the concrete porch, it made a pleasant grating sound that, when combined with my uncle’s voice, produced the oddest sensations in me. I felt a “fuzzy” warm sensation inside my skull, as if my brain was floating in a container of heated seltzer water. As my uncle continued to count and slide the pennies, the warm feeling began to extend down my spine and arms. Soon, my entire upper body was cocooned in this warmth and tingling, and I could have listened to my uncle slowly count the pennies for the rest of my life. It was, and remains to this day, one of the most euphoric sensations I have ever experienced.
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.
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.[35]
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