She has invested in her craft, upgrading to top-notch binaural microphones that carry every exhale into a listener’s ears as if Maria is standing beside them. Her videos, like most ASMR recordings, are undeniably intimate. But the intended response — although often described as “brain orgasms” — is not sexual, ASMR enthusiasts insist. (Unsurprisingly, a few of the creepier online comments insist otherwise.)
YouTube stat tracking service SocialBlade estimates that the "Life With MaK" channel can bring in about $1,000 in advertising revenue, or more, in a single day. That puts her on a par with ASMR Darling, also known as Taylor Darling, the biggest name in the ASMR space with 2.2 million subscribers. ASMR Darling now brings in about $1,000 a day, Wired reported, which roughly jibes with SocialBlade figures.
The bizarreness of this footage means ASMR isn’t without controversies. In June 2018, the Chinese government banned ASMR videos, branding them “vulgar” and “pornographic”. In August, PayPal began blocking the accounts of ASMRtists who received money to make custom videos (although the company later denied it has a policy against ASMR content). For those who don’t experience ASMR, the videos can seem fetishistic. Beyond the weirdness of whispering and making “mouth sounds” as in Kelly’s honeycomb video, some people nickname ASMR a “brain orgasm”.
“One of our main aims is to try to draw attention to ASMR as a topic worthy (and capable) of scientific research, in the hope that it might galvanise future research efforts,” they explain. Of the group, three of them (Emma, Giulia and Tom) experience ASMR, whereas Theresa doesn’t. The study is still in an early stage – data collection has just finished – but this diversity in experience, they believe, is a critical component to their research. “So we starting thinking about how we might first and foremost investigate this phenomenon at the most basic level: what might it take to convince someone who doesn’t experience ASMR that it is a genuine and consistent experience for some people?” they explain. “Theresa doesn’t experience ASMR, and has valuable scepticism of the experience. It adds to the diversity of our research group and the questioning of our approach from a non-ASMR perspective,” they add.
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.
I would spend all Friday, Saturday drawing outlines with my 3 best friends, discussing art, colour and symmetry for hours, then spend all Saturday night bombing trains, painting together would activate it intensely, in the dark, spooky and exhilarating all at the same time, while four kids spent their weekends silently breaking the law to paint Top-to-Bottom Wholecars just for art’s sake)
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.
As for what can trigger episodes in people, it almost always involves close interaction with another person. Usually, that other person is speaking to you in soft or deep tones, and always kindly. There’s usually also a component of adjacent sound coming from an inanimate object that, in conjunction with a person’s voice, helps trigger the episode. This can be the sound of scissor blades scraping together during a haircut, the sound of someone turning magazine pages, or, in my case, the sound of pennies sliding across concrete.
The areas that typically work together weren’t firing together as much. Instead, other areas of the brain were getting more involved than usual—areas related to a visual network, for instance. These differences suggest “that instead of having distinct brain networks the way you or I would, there was more of a blending of these networks,” says Smith, who studies the neuroscience of emotion. “It does make intuitive sense that a condition associated with atypical sensory association and atypical emotional association would have different wiring in the brain.”
Kelly knows that she inspires other kids to take up ASMR – children at school ask for advice on how to make popular YouTube videos. At one football game recently, kids swamped Kelly for photos. “It was like… crazy,” Kelly whispers dramatically. “I went with friends and we walked past this group of cheerleaders and they all got quiet. They came up one after another and were like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’”
Plus, it’s logistically difficult to study a phenomenon that requires quiet and prefers solitude. As Smith points out, fMRI machines are noisy and EEG tests (which Smith’s team also tried) involve attaching “goop and sensors” to the scalp, potentially interfering with the ability to feel tingles. As Smith puts it, “the tools we have are not relaxing.”
But creating an ASMR video isn't as simple as filming for an hour. Maria said her more complex videos take about three days to create. She'll write up a script with specific soothing words she should be using and do research into what sounds she should incorporate. She tests out the appropriate lighting and sound levels before filming. She sets up microphones positioned where a viewer's ears would be in real life, and places the lens where a onlooker's eyes would be. Then, after filming the video, she goes into post-production, which includes a special ear toward sound to remove any clap or loud noise.
The story follows Tom More, a psychiatrist living in a dystopian future who develops a device called the Ontological Lapsometer that, when traced across the scalp of a patient, detects the neurochemical correlation to a range of disturbances. In the course of the novel, More admits that the 'mere application of his device' to a patient's body 'results in the partial relief of his symptoms'.