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.
It seems bizarre that people would spend any amount of time watching a person play with what amounts to DIY Play-Doh, but these videos are hugely popular—and it may have something to do with a phenomenon known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The condition usually causes a relaxing tingling in a person’s scalp and the back of their neck, and can extend into the rest of the body in response to particular sounds, smells, or visuals, according to the ASMR Lab.
I experience both asmr and frisson so I am familiar with both. They are similar in that they both cause a tingling sensation. Asmr is triggered mainly by physical senses (sight, sound, sometimes smell) and produces a relaxing effect. Like you literally can fall asleep from it. Frisson is triggered by thought and emotion and produces an exciting effect.
Creators like Heather Feather are making videos that create the tingly ASMR effect. In fact, there are currently about 5.2 million ASMR videos on YouTube, and there is interest coming from all corners of the globe (see chart below). YouTube searches for ASMR grew over 200% YoY in 2015 and are consistently growing.3 On its own, a top ASMR video can garner over 16 million views.
To date, only one research paper has been published on the phenomenon. In March last year, Emma Barratt, a graduate student at Swansea University, and Dr Nick Davis, then a lecturer at the same institution, published the results of a survey of some 500 ASMR enthusiasts. “ASMR is interesting to me as a psychologist because it’s a bit ‘weird’” says Davis, now at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The sensations people describe are quite hard to describe, and that’s odd because people are usually quite good at describing bodily sensation. So we wanted to know if everybody’s ASMR experience is the same, and of people tend to be triggered by the same sorts of things.”
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.