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.
If you’re not one of Payton’s 443,000 subscribers, then you’re probably currently asking yourself something along the lines of, “Why the heck do people want to watch someone eat a pickle?” The answer, quite simply, is ASMR: or autonomous sensory meridian response. This term is used to describe the sensation, normally a tingling, that people get in response to an auditory or visual cue (like someone eating a pickle). It’s been described as a type of auditory-tactile synesthesia, and it can be triggered by everything from whispering to the crinkling of wrapping paper. The term was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, the founder of the first Facebook group for people who experience the phenomenon, and it has been referred to as ASMR ever since.
The demand for Maria's videos is so great that she's one of a handful of people who have quit their day jobs to pursue creating ASMR-inducing videos full-time. Gentle Whispering ASMR has more than 872,000 subscribers, and her top five videos alone have amassed more than 47 million views. While she won't disclose how much she's making, she noted it's enough for her to have a "comfortable living," but she's more attracted to the fact she's giving people a way to de-stress than the money.
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.
My sensations occur randomly and normally while I am sitting at the computer browsing the net, reading email, or playing my favorite games. I have not noticed a specific trigger and therefore have become concerned that it might be symptomatic of an underlying medical disorder… pending heart attack, diabetic neuropathy or a sinus irritation. I finally chose the correct key words to get Google to lead me here. I just downloaded the book so haven’t read it yet.
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.
I would spend all Friday, Saturday drawing outlines with my 3 best friends, discussing art, colour and symmetry for hours, then spend all Saturday night bombing trains, painting together would activate it intensely, in the dark, spooky and exhilarating all at the same time, while four kids spent their weekends silently breaking the law to paint Top-to-Bottom Wholecars just for art’s sake)
Four months after Novella's blog post, Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive sciences at the University of Sheffield, was reported to have said that ASMR "might well be a real thing, but it's inherently difficult to research...something like this that you can't see or feel" and "doesn't happen for everyone". Stafford compared the current status of ASMR with development of attitudes toward synesthesia, which he said "for years...was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it".
Few legitimate studies have been done on ASMR, and even fewer have discussed the link between it and frisson specifically. At this time[when?], much of the data on ASMR comes from primarily anecdotal sources. Although ASMR and frisson are "interrelated in that they appear to arise through similar physiological mechanisms", individuals who have experienced both describe them as qualitatively different, with different kinds of triggers. A 2018 fMRI study showed that the major brain regions already known to be activated in frisson are also activated in ASMR, and suggests that "the similar pattern of activation of both ASMR and frisson could explain their subjective similarities, such as their short duration and tingling sensation".
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In August 2014, Craig Richard, Jennifer Allen, and Karissa Burnett published a survey at SurveyMonkey that was reviewed by Shenandoah University Institutional Review Board, and the Fuller Theological Seminary School of Psychology Human Studies Review Committee. In September 2015, when the survey had received 13,000 responses, the publishers announced that they were analyzing the data with the intent to publish the results. Currently they have had over 25,000 responses, data analysis is in progress but the survey remains open and active for continued data collection. No such publication or report is yet available.
Among the category of intentional ASMR videos that simulate the provision of personal attention is a subcategory of those specifically depicting the "ASMRtist" providing clinical or medical services, including routine general medical examinations. The creators of these videos make no claims to the reality of what is depicted, and the viewer is intended to be aware that they are watching and listening to a simulation, performed by an actor. Nonetheless, many subjects attribute therapeutic outcomes to these and other categories of intentional ASMR videos, and there are voluminous anecdotal reports of their effectiveness in inducing sleep for those susceptible to insomnia, and assuaging a range of symptoms including those associated with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.