But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling. Some people watch the videos to help them sleep at night. And even without the tingles, it is sort of relaxing, if you can get past the dissonance of someone whispering in your ear while you scroll through Twitter in your cubicle, or whatever.
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.
Then, slime arrived. Personally, it’s a no from me, with its videos of hands plunging into the sticky depths of squelching, rainbow-colored goo or a sequin-stuffed mass that crackles as it’s manipulated. It looks good, sure, but slime doesn’t make a sound that in any way feels satisfying, calming or hypnotic, the way really good vocal ASMR does for me. And so maybe it’s just as well rowdy garage-rock group Drenge—brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who are joined live by bassist Rob Graham – have ripped the piss out of chirpy YouTubers in a new music video that’s all about slime. It’s… absurd, in a good way. Here’s a bit of what they had to say about it, in a sort of 700-word mission statement almost as batshit as the concept itself.
KFC has embraced the trend. In this recent YouTube video, the actor George Hamilton, portraying Colonel Sanders, whispers sweet nothings about pocket squares and enjoys the sounds of KFC's new crispy fried chicken. "This is a community that is absolutely infatuated and enthusiastic about the sensorial experience of sound," KFC CMO Kevin Hochman said in The Washington Post. "There's a lot of comfort that's associated with ASMR, and that's what our food delivers."
“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.
It might sound like a bafflingly bizarre way to spend time on the Internet. But for Maria’s viewers, her voice and movements hold a certain magic: They can instill tranquillity, overcome insomnia — and induce a mysterious physical sensation known as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, wherein the body is flooded with waves of euphoric tingles.
Kelly knows that she inspires other kids to take up ASMR – children at school ask for advice on how to make popular YouTube videos. At one football game recently, kids swamped Kelly for photos. “It was like… crazy,” Kelly whispers dramatically. “I went with friends and we walked past this group of cheerleaders and they all got quiet. They came up one after another and were like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’”
I’m totally with you in similarity on that. I can get it from reading or watching something profound, and also being engaged in a deep connection with someone. I believe ASMR is the main reason why I used to believe in, and what I used to describe as, my third eye. Like Carlos Cruz, I also get the sensation from music, actually having been utterly attached my whole life to gaining these feelings from listening to music.
Think about nails scratching a chalkboard for one second. Are you flinching? One study found that this sound literally accelerated the participants’ stress levels, quickening heart rates, heightening blood pressure and even altering the skin’s electrical conductivity. In the study, the scientists discovered that—when stimulated with this screeching sound, the auditory cortex interacted with the amygdala, which controls responses related to fear and emotions.
“People asked for really weird things,” she explains, “like tapping on a TV or playing with string.” For instance, one stranger paid Kelly $50 (about £38) to film herself eating cookies and milk. In an 11-minute video, Kelly tapped on the biscuits with her vibrant pink fingernails before biting into them and slurping them down with a jar of milk. More than 300,000 people watched that video.
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.
The contemporary history of ASMR began on 19 October 2007 on a discussion forum for health-related subjects at a website called Steady Health. A 21-year-old registered user with the handle "okaywhatever" submitted a post describing having experienced a specific sensation since childhood, comparable to that stimulated by tracing fingers along the skin, yet often triggered by seemingly random and unrelated non-haptic events, such as "watching a puppet show" or "being read a story".