It can often just start with a softly breathed “hellohellohello.” By now, if you’ve got a favourite genre of ASMR content, you probably know what it is. I still have to google what ASMR stands for (Autonomous sensory meridian response—why can I never remember this?) but spend about half of my working day listening to Korean women or Spanish men whispering and tapping cardboard boxes anyway. Look, it helps me concentrate. These are the basics: ASMR makes your body and brain tingle, in a way that is not sexual and not weird. It’s sort of like a massage coming from inside your head, through sound. Those sounds can be anything from light stroking (shout out to Tenaqui using acrylic nails on an eyeshadow palette), to brushing straight fine hair, crunching on fried chicken skin, whispering about crystals, literally saying “sksksk” and rubbing your fingers together real fast like you’re trying to get rid of stray cat hairs.
Lacy is no cliché pageant mum. Lounging on the sofa with wet hair and a grey T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign, she sits back, scrolling on her phone, to let her child speak candidly. She does not push Makenna to answer in a favourable way, nor is she pushing her daughter into stardom in pursuit of fame or riches. “She makes significantly more money than I do and works significantly less than I do,” laughs Lacy, sitting with her legs tucked underneath her on the large brown suede sofa in the middle of the family’s modest apartment. “She doesn’t have to babysit or dog-sit or anything, so it works out good.” Makenna smiles shyly, showing off pink braces. “I do want to babysit though! I like kids.”
At Google BrandLab, we help brands tap into the full potential of YouTube. Many sounds can trigger the calming sensation of ASMR, and brands should listen up. We are not just talking about an enormous engaged audience to tap; we are talking about an enormous engaged audience that is already using your brand. ASMRtists often employ objects, especially food products, to create the tingly effect: crinkling wrappers, chewing candy, cracking open cans. (A search for "beer ASMR" on YouTube returns over 81,000 video results.) Tic Tac, Swedish Fish, and Taco Bell are all brands that make cameos in YouTube creator videos.
ASMR seems to need an emotional component to it, and Winter says that’s not accidental. “Some things may remind you of your mother or being a kid,” he says. “I’d guess that it’s no accident that a lot of the videos of someone whispering feature an attractive woman, which make you think of your mom whispering to you when you went to sleep.” Those memories the videos evoke are likely comforting, and can shift people into a more relaxed state that then helps them fall asleep, he says.
I first encountered ASMR, as do most people, as a child. I never knew exactly what it was. I experienced it when certain teachers spoke, during certain TV shows and at the dentist. I didn’t understand the sensation but enjoyed it, and would try and stay very calm and relaxed every time it happened to try and lengthen my experience of it. You can read the full story of how I found ASMR in this post.
I have just found out about ASMR, and never knew there was an actual name for how I became so mesmerised by certain things. I don’t get tingles or anything physical, just get so entranced by the “thing” that nothing else matters, and I end up staring like a hypnotised fool at whatever the trigger has been! haha! Mostly it is aural, like accidental whispering (I don’t enjoy the deliberate whisper videos on Youtube), crinkling of packages (again, accidental, not deliberate), or sometimes it is visual, like someone quietly playing with their hair, or gently rummaging in their bag for something.
Unfortunately I fall asleep faster with “weird” personal attention asmr. Basically my playlist is comprised of me getting kidnapped by two different Yandere (anime trope), 3 different vampires, dating a pop idol, having a maid that cooked over 30 food items for 2 god damn people, working for an alchemist water spirit, getting murdered by a serial killer, some reiki ASMR, and one video with tapping. It is weird but it knocks me out.
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.