The term ASMR was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, a 39-year-old penetration tester. “For years I thought, ‘Jeez, maybe I have a brain tumour or something,’” she recalls. From 1999 onwards, Allen searched steadfastly for others like her online. In the late noughties, she stumbled upon a SteadyHealth.com forum in which a user named okaywhatever51838 discussed a “weird sensation” that “feels good”.
Finally something to explain my “photocopier man” feeling which has been a standard joke in our family. I first discovered this feeling when I was a teenager working in an office where a repair man would come regularly to maintain the photocopier and I would experience this sensation of well-being while he was working. It was in a fairly small office and usually he would clean the screen with an acetone base cleaner so I always thought that the fumes from that created a mini “high”. I have had it at various times usually when there is someone repairing something in the office eg putting data cables, fixing sockets etc. I now work in a research lab and have had it when participants are in another room being tested with senors on their heads and I have no visual or auditory input from them just the sense of them being there. I have had it to a lesser extent from acupuncture and find massage of any kind extremely unpleasant. It’s nice to find out that it’s not just me that has this strange feeling for no apparent reason.
On June 3 2018, Makenna Kelly, a 13-year old from Fort Collins, Colorado, uploaded the video that propelled her to internet stardom. Entitled “Eating Raw Honeycomb – EXTREMELY Sticky Mouth Sounds”, it featured the teen chewing fistfuls of pure honeycomb directly in front of a microphone for 16 minutes. In the following months, it was viewed 12 million times. By October, Kelly had reached one million YouTube subscribers.
Richard suggests that the “extreme relaxation” of ASMR may be the mirror image of panic attacks, residing at the far end of the relaxation spectrum. If, as his data so far shows, three-quarters of his subjects use ASMR videos to help them sleep, a third say the videos help them “feel less sad,” and smaller percentages use the videos to deal with diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression, ASMR could one day have therapeutic applications, he argues.
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 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.