Having previously practiced yoga and meditation for over 10 years, I can induce ASMR at will, or "bliss", as it's called in the spiritual community. It's often part of the very first steps on a spiritual journey, though no requirement. These videos didn't induce ASMR in me though, so maybe it's a different sensation than "bliss", or different triggers.
Another article, "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state", by Nick Davis and Emma Barratt, lecturer and post-graduate researcher respectively in the Department of Psychology at Swansea University, was published in PeerJ. This article aimed to 'describe the sensations associated with ASMR, explore the ways in which it is typically induced in capable individuals ... to provide further thoughts on where this sensation may fit into current knowledge on atypical perceptual experiences ... and to explore the extent to which engagement with ASMR may ease symptoms of depression and chronic pain' The paper was based on a study of 245 men, 222 women, and 8 individuals of non-binary gender, aged from 18 to 54 years, all of whom had experienced ASMR, and regularly consumed ASMR media, from which the authors concluded and suggested that 'given the reported benefits of ASMR in improving mood and pain symptoms...ASMR warrants further investigation as a potential therapeutic measure similar to that of meditation and mindfulness.'
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.
It now drives an entire industry on YouTube, where video artists rack up millions of views filming an array of audio and visual triggers for their viewers: They whisper, tap their fingers, flip through pages of a book, play with slime, slurp up noodles, make “mouth sounds” and even role-play scenarios like a spa visit or a doctor’s appointment — anything to evoke the sensation.
The most popular source of stimuli reported by subjects to be effective in triggering ASMR is video. Videos reported being effective in triggering ASMR fall into two categories, identified and named by the community as 'Intentional' and 'Unintentional'. Intentional media is created by those known within the community as 'ASMRtists' with the purpose of triggering ASMR in viewers and listeners. Unintentional media is that made for other purposes, often before attention was drawn to the phenomenon in 2007, but which some subjects discover to be effective in triggering ASMR. One early unintentional example is the Art Bears song 'The Bath of Stars.' Another example of unintentional media several journalists have noted is of famed painter Bob Ross. In episodes of his popular television series The Joy of Painting both broadcast and on YouTube, his soft, gentle speaking mannerisms and the sound of him painting and his tools trigger the effect on many of his viewers. The work of stop-motion filmmaker PES is also often noted.
As Drenge put it to us, “the online slime craze popularized through Instagram and YouTube has touched on something deep within us.” According to the hypothesis that they tested with the video itself, “short, attention-sapping clips of Technicolor liquids reacting to a variety of stress tests tickle the base nerves of the brain. MRI scans show activity in the same parts of the brain that react to hypnotism and childhood comforts, brought on by warm blankets and lullabies. Scientists are reluctant to reveal any secrets but rumours are swirling with regards to an obscure cortex known as Deep Baby Brain. We are beginning to unlock deep secrets about the human psyche.”
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.
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.
In an era where social media fails to provide its users with a feeling of personal connection, ASMR steps in to bridge the gap. "The number one thing that we need as human beings an attachment. That's what it’s all about. We want to attach, we don't want to feel alone or isolated. Our body does that for us. So, when we feel good, we feel close, and we feel attached. So that's what the videos are tapping into on some level," she explained.
While little scientific research has been conducted into potential neurobiological correlates to the perceptual phenomenon known as 'autonomous sensory meridian response' (ASMR), with a consequent dearth of data with which to either explain or refute its physical nature, there is voluminous anecdotal literature comprising personal commentary and intimate disclosure of subjective experiences distributed across forums, blogs, and YouTube comments by hundreds of thousands of people. Within this literature, in addition to the original consensus that ASMR is euphoric but non-sexual in nature, a further point of continued majority agreement within the community of those who experience it is that they fall into two broad categories of subjects.
It seems at the moment that the answer is no. Not everybody reports experiencing this sensation. Most people discover it by accident in their childhood, however some adults experience it for the first time. If you haven’t experienced ASMR before, it might just be that you haven’t found your personal triggers yet. Check out our article detailing the common triggers to see if any of them do it for you.
Jacob Daniel is clearly a savvy child – although excitable and eccentric, he talks soberly about safety on YouTube, clapping his hands as he tells children to “be, be safe”. He tells kids to use fake names, access their email with VPNs, and avoid making custom Skype calls with viewers. For all his intelligence, however, Daniel is still a child. He and Prunkl show off a series of wigs they play with at home – he dons a purple one with red horns; Prunkl shows me her doll. They talk excitedly about the pranks they play on the public, wearing the wigs to order food in take-away shops.
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.
All of which is to say, watch the thing. It comes from an album that honestly made me think, ‘hang on, where have Drenge been and were they always sounding this good?’ I think I last saw them at Glastonbury 2014, a year when I accosted them backstage and filmed a short video interview for the publication where I worked at the time. They seemed very tired but very cheerful. At that stage, they were bang in the middle of their first wave of hype. They’d released their self-titled debut album in autumn 2013, seemingly coming out of nowhere (in fact: Castleton) with a fully-formed sound. They both also seemed so young, grinning gamely in interviews—I could’ve sworn they were teens and not, in fact, in their early twenties by the time they broke through.
Seven years later, ASMR is having a pop culture moment—even if many of those who use it don’t know what the acronym stands for. The phenomenon’s most popular practitioners have more than half a million subscribers, and the doyenne of ASMRrtists, Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR, has been so successful that she’s been able to quit her job to role-play soothing cosmetologists, librarians and flight attendants full-time. But what is ASMR? What function does it serve, who is drawn to it, and why? Or, as researcher Craig Richard puts it: “Why are millions of people watching someone fold a napkin?”
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.
Ahuja alleges that through the character of Tom More, as depicted in Love in the Ruins, Percy 'displays an intuitive understanding of the diagnostic act as a form of therapy unto itself'. Ahuja asks whether similarly, the receipt of simulated personal clinical attention by an actor in an ASMR video might afford the listener and viewer some relief.