But, as Wired UK reported, there's another side to the subculture: Kids as young as 5 years old are making their own ASMR videos — and making good money in the process. Wired spoke with 13-year-old Makenna Kelly, who makes ASMR videos for the 1.3 million subscribers to her "Life with MaK" channel. In some of her most viewed videos, Makenna eats instant ramen noodles and glides makeup brushes over a microphone.
In addition to the effectiveness of specific auditory stimuli, many subjects report that ASMR is triggered by the receipt of tender personal attention, often comprising combined physical touch and vocal expression, such as when having their hair cut, nails painted, ears cleaned, or back massaged, whilst the service provider speaks quietly to the recipient. Furthermore, many of those who have experienced ASMR during these and other comparable encounters with a service provider report that watching an "ASMRtist" simulate the provision of such personal attention, acting directly to the camera as if the viewer were the recipient of a simulated service, is sufficient to trigger it.
I first got the tingles (as I called them) at seven years of age, I would be sitting with a friend, or alone, listening to the radio, drawing, talking, suddenly everything gets hushed, quite, talk is low, personal, close. To me, it feels like Empathy Overload! Deep feelings of shared tragedy, celebration or experience, in song, speech or shared moments of complete silence. But it’s empathy operating at a very high level, that’s what I feel. A deep understanding of the law and order of… everything,
But the phenomenon has nonetheless burst into the mainstream, thanks to mounting media coverage and a few high-profile references: “Saturday Night Live” alum Molly Shannon gushed to Conan O’Brien about her “head orgasms,” induced by the methodical touch of airport security pat-downs; novelist Andrea Seigel shared her experience with ASMR on the radio program “This American Life” last year; the “Dr. Oz” show has featured ASMR videos as a way to ease insomnia.
The study is still ongoing, and results have not yet been published. But for his part, Richard has been developing a theory of what ASMR is and why it exists. His theory isn't exactly scientific, but it is beautiful: He notes that the quality that underlies almost all ASMR videos is what’s been called a “tranquil, womb-like intimacy.” That is, ASMRtists speak softly into the ears of headphone-wearing viewers, gently coaxing them to sleep by way of assiduous personal attention, comforting words, smiles and simulated stroking. At its most essential level, Richard believes, all the intimacy channeled through towel foldings and whispered affection is about triggering the felt experience of being loved.
ASMR doesn’t work for everyone and it can be tough to imagine the sensation if you don’t experience it first-hand. For most people who do experience it, the blissful tingling starts up in the scalp and then makes its way through the body to the arms and legs. And as a result, it can trigger a feeling of relaxation before bedtime, which can help you overcome insomnia. The audio/video segments are long—in fact, some last up to an hour. They are lengthy so that you can keep watching or listening to them until you drift off.
Richard, who is also the author of Brain Tingles: The Secret to Triggering Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for Improved Sleep, Stress Relief, and Head-to-Toe Euphoria, estimates around 20 per cent of the population experience strong ASMR. What triggers people may come down to individual preferences. “The key to triggering ASMR is to create gentle sounds,” he says. Richard’s own triggers include eye exams and [the Netflix series] The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.
“Our research studies consistently show that ASMR is a relaxing, calming sensation that increases feelings of social connectedness,” Giulia Poerio (a co-author of the study), told Newsweek. “Importantly, we found that ASMR videos produce significant reductions in heart rate in people who experience ASMR. So we now have more objective evidence of the idea that ASMR is relaxing. It’s not just people telling us that ASMR makes them feel relaxed—their physiology is telling us the same thing too.”