This image from video provided by Michelob shows a frame from their 2019 Super Bowl commercial for Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. The ad features the actress Zoe Kravitz using techniques for autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. It is described as a tingly euphoric response, usually starting on the head and scalp, and sometimes spreading down the neck, arms or back. (Michelob ULTRA via AP)
ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is still a relatively new creation. It describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds. What kind of visual or audio clips can create such a lovely feeling? It might surprise you, but the videos are of people doing incredibly simple, quiet, calming tasks, such as folding towels, brushing their hair, or flipping magazine pages. You might hear someone’s voice speaking in the background of the video, but not always. The audio clips often consist of voices whispering nice things (like "You are appreciated"), or contain the sound of tapping, scratching, or rain.
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.
For outsiders, ASMR has always been weird. “One thing that’s interesting about the ASMR experience is that it’s about close personal attention,” says Giulia Poerio, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield who has undertaken multiple ASMR studies. Role-play videos thrive in the ASMR community – online, you can watch someone pretend to be your dentist, masseuse, or even a receptionist checking you into a hotel. “They’re basically a simulation of what would happen if you got ASMR in real life,” Poerio explains. “Multiple triggers are layered to get an effect.”
From my experience with ASMR videos in the last three weeks, I’ve never had one trigger the kind of episode I had with my uncle. However, that doesn’t mean the ASMR videos had no benefits. The biggest, I’ve found, is that the right ASMR video works like a charm in sending me to sleep. In fact, ASMR videos seem to be better at sending me to sleep than most sleep hypnosis videos I’ve found.
While most girls her age earned their pocket money babysitting the neighbours’ kids, Kelly spent that summer in her bedroom filming 50 custom-made ASMR videos. She would receive daily email requests for bespoke videos, shoot the footage, receive the money over PayPal (ten minutes cost $50, whereas for $30 (about £23) you’d get a five-minute clip) and upload the video to her YouTube channel, Life with Mak.
But she added, from a therapeutic standpoint, the videos cause the viewer to slow down, "We spend a whole bunch of time going as fast as we can, not thinking about what we're saying or how we're feeling. So, videos like what you're researching make us slow down." Dr. Ruggerio-Wallace explained, the part of the brain that houses emotions is triggered by certain sounds, which can release endorphins, "In the core center part of our brains, we store emotions and memories, having our hair brushed, is connected to us in certain ways. Like it probably feels good. That sound means something good," she said.
Mockery is a problem for any child in the limelight – one of Jacob Daniel’s fellow ASMRtist United founders quit YouTube after being picked on at school. Kelly says there are rumours that one girl at school said she was “annoying”, but most people think her channel is “cool”. Yet Kelly isn’t just a famous ASMRtist – she is also a meme. On social media, people edit her videos into short clips and share them with relatable captions.
"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?'
I first remember experiencing asmr on ecstasy when I was 16 years old. I am now in my thirties and have been addicted to heroin/opiates for the past 12 years. I recently went into treatment for the first time and as I was sitting in these large AA meetings I would get an intense tingling sensation starting at my head that would sometimes spread throughout my body. It would definitely happen when I would hear something particularly emotional or inspiring. It’s probably the greatest natural high I’ve ever felt aside from breaking into hysterical laughter (which I did plenty of at the treatment center). But yeah, great site here and I looking forward to learning more about the world of asmr!
“The YouTube slime craze has left us beguiled. What’s behind our connection to these polymer-based environmental hazards?” they asked, before describing ASMRtists as “auteurs of online content” whispering “spine-chilling ASMR magic” which absolutely fair enough. “‘Can you hear that?’ they whisper as they slap the wet, submissive, colourful blob on their clean counter surface.” And that made Drenge wonder whether there’s “a deeper connection,” some way to explain why ASMR attracts and affects so many people (myself included). “Amniotic fluid? Anal retentiveness? Dipping your fingers into a wobbling pot of slime is surprisingly calming. You can almost feel your pupils dilate when watching a pair of hands sink into a fresh pot of goo. It’s comparable to stepping into a pristine snowy field or discovering an untouched continent of the world. Slime makes you believe unbelievable things.”
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.
"As ASMR has started to come to mainstream attention, researchers have finally begun trying to answer that question. Neuroscientists are now experimenting with fMRIs and electroencephalography to see if the brains of 'tingleheads,' as they are called, are any different than those who don’t tremble at the sight of napkin-folding. They’ve also surveyed tens of thousands of people who say they experience the phenomenon. So far there are intriguing—if limited—findings suggesting that ASMR may relieve some people’s symptoms of stress and insomnia, and that the brains of those who experience it may be organized a little differently."
Yang Haiying is a soft-spoken Asian woman with thousands of videos uploaded to her Youtube account. The videos cover a whole bunch of topics ranging from painting to cooking to the making of tea. I’ve only seen her tea-related videos, but she has the kind of voice that will shiver you right up—and she knows it, too. Some of her videos are titled and tagged as “Inadvertent ASMR,” so she definitely knows the power of her sweet voice.
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.