What is ASMR? For a trend so wildly popular, you probably haven’t heard of it. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it’s a strange recent phenomenon. We all find certain sounds mentally and physically stimulating—some things send a shiver down our spines, create a sensation in the back of our heads. ASMR is a type of sensory stimulus that helps you to relax! In fact, there’s an entire section of Youtube videos and sound creation that is meant to help people feel good.
All of which is to say, watch the thing. It comes from an album that honestly made me think, ‘hang on, where have Drenge been and were they always sounding this good?’ I think I last saw them at Glastonbury 2014, a year when I accosted them backstage and filmed a short video interview for the publication where I worked at the time. They seemed very tired but very cheerful. At that stage, they were bang in the middle of their first wave of hype. They’d released their self-titled debut album in autumn 2013, seemingly coming out of nowhere (in fact: Castleton) with a fully-formed sound. They both also seemed so young, grinning gamely in interviews—I could’ve sworn they were teens and not, in fact, in their early twenties by the time they broke through.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a nonclinical term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, who’s been involved in online organizing around ASMR since the late aughts. Allen, who works in cybersecurity, figured people couldn’t discuss the phenomenon unless it had a name—ideally, an official-sounding one, to lend legitimacy to a practice that can be embarrassing to share. Once ASMR had a name—and had been featured in a slew of can-you-believe-this news stories—academics became interested in pinning down what it was.
But it’s still a business, particularly for ASMRtists who hold to a strict programming schedule, solicit PayPal donations or offer one-on-one Skype sessions for a fee. Maria declined to specify her income but says that she holds a part-time administrative job and doesn’t earn enough from online ads to make a living off her videos alone — mainly because she doesn’t want her vlogging to become an obligatory burden. She’ll post a new video once per week or once per month, depending on how busy she is.
ASMR can vary from person to person because it’s all about perception, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells SELF. “We all perceive experience in a different way even though it is the same experience,” he explains. For example, while one person may find the sound of someone typing comforting (if, say, they had a parent who worked on a computer at home), others may associate the sound with office work and become more stressed when they hear it.
In a 2012 blog post, Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, compared ASMR to migraine headaches — “We know they exist as a syndrome primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” he wrote — and theorized that ASMR could even be a type of “pleasurable” seizure.
The term ASMR was coined in 2010, but the audio and visual-induced sensation has always existed. If you've ever experienced that cringe-worthy, face-scrunching feeling you get when you hear nails on a chalkboard, ASMR is the exact opposite. It's the chills you get when you hear a beautiful voice singing. It's the prickly sensation when you hear or see something soothing, without having to physically touch it.
Unfortunately I fall asleep faster with “weird” personal attention asmr. Basically my playlist is comprised of me getting kidnapped by two different Yandere (anime trope), 3 different vampires, dating a pop idol, having a maid that cooked over 30 food items for 2 god damn people, working for an alchemist water spirit, getting murdered by a serial killer, some reiki ASMR, and one video with tapping. It is weird but it knocks me out.
Sounds like just normal. When you feel it you know it. That jumping around sensation can start just like yours did. Mine starts at the base of my neck traveling up like the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, but more relaxing and very nice. Feel like giggling inside, then shoots up to my scalp and down my arms and waves travel everywhere. Whole thing can be over in a few seconds. Experiencing the trigger over again still produces symptoms but maybe not so much/or in different places. You get to feel kind of drugged. I may not feel it if I listen to a song I love from beginning to end, but will if it’s a snippet of the chorus or lead up to it. A few minutes ago I got triggered from hearing a sample from iTunes of a song I bought recently. That song has a lot of trigger types in it. Sounds like whispers or gentle waves, light tapping beats, breathy singing, violins.
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.
Nothing can currently be definitively known about any evolutionary origins for ASMR since the perceptual phenomenon itself has yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlations. Even so, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has led to the conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.
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.
Understandably, considering the whispering, and the intimacy, and the term “brain orgasms,” ASMR can seem at first blush like a fetish of some kind. The ASMR subreddit clarifies: “This is sometimes referred to as head orgasms, but this is about as sexual as saying eating chocolate is orgasmic (in that it's not sexual).” And while they may exist, none of the many videos I’ve watched in the course of reporting this article have had any sexual content.
Given that ASMR is open to misunderstanding and misconceptions, a healthy dose of scepticism is important for future research in the area. Anecdotally, the Sheffield group point out that some ASMR enthusiasts use the videos therapeutically, to help with symptoms of insomnia, anxiety or depression. This is echoed in the findings from Barratt and Davis’s survey; their data showed that, for people who scored as having moderate to severe depression, 69% reported using ASMR videos to help ease their symptoms, and generally reported a greater improvement in mood than individuals who were not depressed. But these are self-report measures, and further work needs to be done to pinpoint to what extent there may be an actual therapeutic effect.
“We found that people who experience ASMR showed significant reductions in their heart rates compared to non-ASMR participants,” Poerio explains, “These reductions are comparable to other stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and music therapy.” Poerio says this finding is crucial because reduced heart rates prove people who enjoy ASMR are not sexually aroused.
“When a newborn is born, the sensation that is the most developed and they receive the most information through is touch, and the one that’s least developed is sight,” he says. Parents show infants love most of all through touch, he argues—coddling, stroking—and all of this helps explain why ASMR is, at its best, an in-person experience with echoes of childhood experiences.
Perhaps less obvious, a large majority of the ASMR audience also skews technophile and gamer. People interested in ASMR across the web are more than twice as likely to be in the market for consumer tech products like laptops, mobile phones, and game consoles.8 There's even an ASMR gamer YouTube channel. ASMR may be an antidote to fast-paced video games; research has shown that your brain on video games can heighten your senses.
It now drives an entire industry on YouTube, where video artists rack up millions of views filming an array of audio and visual triggers for their viewers: They whisper, tap their fingers, flip through pages of a book, play with slime, slurp up noodles, make “mouth sounds” and even role-play scenarios like a spa visit or a doctor’s appointment — anything to evoke the sensation.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. This tingle is said to originate in a person’s head and spread to the spine (and sometimes the limbs) in response to stimulation. The stimuli that trigger ASMR vary from person to person. Some of the most common ones include whispers, white noise, lip smacking, having a person’s complete attention (as in having one’s hair cut by a hairdresser), as well as brushing, chewing, tapping, scratching, whispering, and crinkling.
ASMR is usually precipitated by stimuli referred to as 'triggers'. ASMR triggers, which are most commonly auditory and visual, may be encountered through the interpersonal interactions of daily life. Additionally, ASMR is often triggered by exposure to specific audio and video. Such media may be specially made with the specific purpose of triggering ASMR or originally created for other purposes and later discovered to be effective as a trigger of the experience.