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.
Of course, Kelly — who was named one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21” in November 2018 — is not the only star in the ASMR internet community. The current largest ASMR artist, or “ASMRtist”, on YouTube, Taylor Darling, aka ASMR Darling, has two million subscribers and earns an estimated $1,000 a day in advertising revenue. Global megabrands such as IKEA, Sony, McDonald’s and Toyota have now all created ASMR-inspired adverts, and in October 2018, platinum rapper Cardi B made an ASMR video that went on to be viewed nearly 10,000,000 times. It’s no longer surprising that 75 per cent of children want to be YouTubers, but these kids don’t want to be the next beauty-blogging Zoella or game-streaming PewDiePie. They want to be the next brain-tingling ASMR Darling.
At Google BrandLab, we help brands tap into the full potential of YouTube. Many sounds can trigger the calming sensation of ASMR, and brands should listen up. We are not just talking about an enormous engaged audience to tap; we are talking about an enormous engaged audience that is already using your brand. ASMRtists often employ objects, especially food products, to create the tingly effect: crinkling wrappers, chewing candy, cracking open cans. (A search for "beer ASMR" on YouTube returns over 81,000 video results.) Tic Tac, Swedish Fish, and Taco Bell are all brands that make cameos in YouTube creator videos.
Barratt and Davis don’t see their study as a complete story; rather, it’s a foot in the door for researchers interested in studying the phenomenon. “We hope our work will provide a platform for more sophisticated work in the future, but we saw it as a starting point,” explains Davis. The next step, ideally, is to start trying to pin down the physiological basis of the sensation.
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.
She uploads once a week to her channel and every week of the month is a different style video. She does true crime ASMR, tapping and scratching, videos where she reads and ones where she opens up about her life. "People enjoy more whenever it’s just me sitting there talking and like eating, and I get to just be myself and people enjoy it, that's pretty cool,” she said.
But given its popularity, why has the psychological research community neglected the sensation until now? There could be lots of reasons. For one, it’s an inherently personal, private experience, and perhaps one that hasn’t traditionally lent itself to cropping up in conversation all that often. That, coupled with the fact that it’s a difficult sensation to explain to someone who doesn’t experience it, may go some way to explaining why there wasn’t even a term to describe it until 2010. “Before the online community existed, I’ve heard many people who experience ASMR say they thought they were the only ones that experienced it,” says Barratt. “I think the lack of evidence that ASMR was experienced by such a huge group of people may be why it was overlooked, or written off as an oddly described version of frisson (‘goosebumps’), in the past,” she adds.
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.