In the first peer-reviewed article on ASMR, published in Perspectives in Biology in summer 2013, Nitin Ahuja, who was at the time of publication a medical resident at the University of Virginia, invited conjecture on whether the receipt of simulated medical attention might have some tangible therapeutic value for the recipient, comparing the purported positive outcome of clinical role play ASMR videos with the themes of the novel Love in the Ruins by author and physician Walker Percy, published in 1971.
Beauty products, in fact, play a starring role in the trend. Makeup tutorials have long been popular on YouTube, but after viewers realized how relaxing they were, many tutorials now double as ASMR videos. Some creators take the role-play approach, simulating the feeling of being in a makeup artist's chair, while others use makeup brushes to create soothing noises. Search for "ASMR nails," and you'll see many creators showing off their manicures as they make tapping and scratching sounds. Even Michelle Phan—the queen of beauty herself, with 8.6 million subscribers and counting—has created an ASMR video.
For many people they might have experienced the sensation of ASMR before but not necessarily understand it, or seek it out too seriously. When you first find the ASMR community online it can be a very exciting time, knowing that you are part of a group and a very welcoming community. However it can also be very overwhelming and it isn’t particularly clear where to start. For some great tips to help you get the most from your ASMR you should check out our free ebook.
The term ASMR was coined by a woman named Jennifer Allen in 2010. It was around that time that she ran across a group of people on a steadyhealth.com forum who described a sensation she herself had experienced, but which no one seemed to understand well. Frustrated by the lack of community organization on that forum, she created a Facebook group called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response Group. The group name was one that she believed captured the key characteristics of what’s now known as ASMR. She wanted to create a community that would bring together people who had also been experiencing this sensation. She consciously created a term that she felt people would be comfortable using: one that sounded objective, clinical, and impersonal. Soon after, a worldwide community began to take shape.
For me it’s tapping, whispering (the closer the better), hair brushing (directly on the mic, not just raking a brush through hair), and hypnosis (even if they’re only attempts or roleplay). Medical or other kinds of roleplay don’t seem to affect me at all and just come off as phony in my mind. It’s the sounds themselves, and their intensity at very close range, that hit me hardest. I don’t really care what’s being said. In fact I get just as much out of asmr in languages I don’t understand. Pretty sure French in and of itself is something of a trigger.
Hidden on YouTube among the videos of aspiring singers crooning Justin Bieber and amateur gamers playing FortNite is a star unlike the others. Her name is Spirit Payton, and her claim to fame is making noise. In her most popular video, with upwards of 13 million views, you’ll find her noisily chewing pickles next to a microphone. Yes, 13 million people have watched Spirit eat pickles—and they love it. Welcome to ASMR.
Repetitive behaviors that are connected to the sense of touch can also be very soothing for some people, Saltz says, which may be why people like to massage their own slime for ASMR or watch videos of someone doing the action to elicit the memory of doing it themselves. Children can be soothed by repetitive motions, like massaging slime or Play-Doh, and that doesn’t necessarily change over a person’s lifetime, Saltz says.
Smith speculates that ASMR may be similar to synesthesia, the fascinating neurological condition in which people see numbers in color and “taste” shapes. “In synesthesia,” he says, “there have been some studies that show there’s slightly atypical wiring in the brain that leads to slightly different sensory associations, and I think that may be the same thing we have here.”
Ahuja alleges that through the character of Tom More, as depicted in Love in the Ruins, Percy 'displays an intuitive understanding of the diagnostic act as a form of therapy unto itself'. Ahuja asks whether similarly, the receipt of simulated personal clinical attention by an actor in an ASMR video might afford the listener and viewer some relief.