The ASMR videos are easy to laugh at if you’re a casual observer–when I recently played one on my iPhone for guests at a dinner party, everyone cracked up within five seconds of watching the video. The videos usually include an attractive woman in a role-play scenario: She’s pretending to be an eye doctor, a makeup artist, or even checking hair for head lice. All videos are shot in first person, so the viewer appears to be alone in the room with the woman. And she’s usually whispering or speaking softly to you. It’s this combination of voice and the sounds from object interaction that the viewer hopes will trigger an ASMR experience.
Perhaps less obvious, a large majority of the ASMR audience also skews technophile and gamer. People interested in ASMR across the web are more than twice as likely to be in the market for consumer tech products like laptops, mobile phones, and game consoles.8 There's even an ASMR gamer YouTube channel. ASMR may be an antidote to fast-paced video games; research has shown that your brain on video games can heighten your senses.
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.
These reports have precipitated comparison between ASMR and synesthesia – a condition characterised by the excitation of one sensory modality by stimuli that normally exclusively stimulates another, as when the hearing of a specific sound induces the visualization of a distinct color, a type of synesthesia called chromesthesia. Thereby, people with other types of synesthesia report for example 'seeing sounds' in the case of auditory-visual synesthesia, or 'tasting words' in the case of lexical-gustatory synesthesia.
“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.
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".
“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.
Nothing can currently be definitively known about any evolutionary origins for ASMR since the perceptual phenomenon itself has yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlations. Even so, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has led to the conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.
Looking for Amsers to this riddle for 35 years. I was born in ’72, experienced AMSR since childhood, asked thousands of people through my life, none empathised with me, I thought I was unique or touched in the head. I would activate usually from watching people performing simple tasks, like drawing and conversing while in deep artistic thought (Graffiti Artist since ’85), or watching a Teacher perform a task for the class.
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.”
The story follows Tom More, a psychiatrist living in a dystopian future who develops a device called the Ontological Lapsometer that, when traced across the scalp of a patient, detects the neurochemical correlation to a range of disturbances. In the course of the novel, More admits that the 'mere application of his device' to a patient's body 'results in the partial relief of his symptoms'.