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?”
“For me, something about when kids whisper, it’s, oh my god, it’s so relaxing,” says Desireé Hunnicutt, Aoki’s mother, who started watching ASMR videos in 2011. Hunnicutt says she was motivated to create the AMSR Toddler channel in order to help people. “I see comments where people are like, ‘Oh my goodness, I watch every night and it helps me fall asleep,’” she says. “To me that’s perfect, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
One part of that forage into “Deep Baby Brain” involves introducing you to ‘YouTuber’ CuteKid4950, and his tub of Strange Creatures goo. He starts off with the usual setup, doing his piece to camera before getting out the gunk. But then… things get weird. “Expanding upon the YouTube infotainment vlog format,” Drenge said, “CuteKid4950 takes us from kitchen to basement to warehouse to cave and emerges unscathed and enlightened. We can see the time and space properties of the real world crumble into insignificance. Unusual patterns emerge. Colours and shapes of forgotten solar systems reveal themselves amid the paint and the goo. This is more than something to keep you lightly amused. People will tell you that you are mad. They will try to denounce you. Ignore them. Let history be the judge.”
The concept itself has existed before the term ASMR was coined. In 2007, a user under the handle okaywhatever51838 created a thread titled “Weird Sensation Feels Good” on steadyhealth.com, where Jennifer Allen first came across others describing ASMR. In 2008, one user within that forum thread called the sensation Attention Induced Head Orgasm (AIHO). In early 2010, another forum user called it Attention Induced Observant Euphoria.
A study done by Google, the parent company of YouTube states, ASMR videos are mostly watched by people between the ages of 18 and 24. Osbourn has noticed this trend and thinks there’s a correlation with mental health. “Our generation is more open to talking about mental health, we are so much more aware of ‘I’m struggling mentally, and I need help, and I’m going to find the help that I need,’ than any other generation, in my opinion,” she said.
“We talked to her about how it’s good today but might be gone tomorrow,” Lacy says. With YouTube’s new, stricter regulations, child ASMRtists may be replaced by an as-yet-unknown breed of internet celebrity. Desireé Hunnicutt, for instance, is hoping that Aoki’s early start on YouTube will allow her to start a business. “I believe in Aoki figuring out what it is that she wants to do in life even early on and I hope it actually helps her,” she says.
I have a question about my own experience with ASMR. I do not have any of the common triggers that are mentioned here. Mine seems more cognitive than anything else. When I fully express a thought with someone who is deeply engaged in the conversation and they agree with me or give me some sign that they understand, I get an intense tingle in my head and scalp. I think its very odd, but I enjoy it and I think it has reinforced my ability and preference for good conversation. I am just curious if anyone else experiences anything remotely similar to this and if you have found anything else that goes along with it. Thanks!
“I don’t think enough is done,” Fleck says. “This little girl was wearing sweatshirts with her school’s name on them, you have the danger of being doxxed, people finding out where you are.” Thankfully, Fleck feels the ASMR community look out for each other. “It’s just a little difficult because other than reaching out to get YouTube to do something, we’re kind of powerless.”
When she first felt it, she had no idea what it was. In kindergarten in central Russia, Maria and her friends would sometimes tickle each other gently, running their fingers over the skin of their forearms. For Maria, the experience was transcendent, sending a cascade of goosebumps over her head and down her back: “I would be left in a zombie-like state,” she says. “I would just be so relaxed.”
"We believe technology presents great opportunities for young people to express themselves creatively and access useful information, but we also know we have a responsibility to protect young creators and families and consider the potential impact of emerging trends on them. We've been working with experts to update our enforcement guidelines for reviewers to remove ASMR videos featuring minors engaged in more intimate or inappropriate acts. We are working alongside experts to make sure we are protecting young creators while also allowing ASMR content that connects creators and viewers in positive ways."
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.
I have been experiencing ASMR right from my childhood on many occasions, notably when I get personal attention, for example when a tailor takes the measurements. I do experience ASMR during hair cuts but to a lesser degree. The intensity is more when I get my moustache trimmed, a final ritual of my hair cut. It might sound weird to you, but I am trying to explain iin detail so that you get a better understanding of ASMR for different people.
Finally something to explain my “photocopier man” feeling which has been a standard joke in our family. I first discovered this feeling when I was a teenager working in an office where a repair man would come regularly to maintain the photocopier and I would experience this sensation of well-being while he was working. It was in a fairly small office and usually he would clean the screen with an acetone base cleaner so I always thought that the fumes from that created a mini “high”. I have had it at various times usually when there is someone repairing something in the office eg putting data cables, fixing sockets etc. I now work in a research lab and have had it when participants are in another room being tested with senors on their heads and I have no visual or auditory input from them just the sense of them being there. I have had it to a lesser extent from acupuncture and find massage of any kind extremely unpleasant. It’s nice to find out that it’s not just me that has this strange feeling for no apparent reason.
I frequently get seemingly random shivers throughout my body that last for a moment or two. To give these shivers some context, I was told this is what happens when "someone walks over your grave," (don't know if you guys have heard the expression?) Could these shivers be momentary glimpses of a real ASMR experience, or something else entirely? I've never really paid much attention to them before.
“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.
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.