If you’re not one of Payton’s 443,000 subscribers, then you’re probably currently asking yourself something along the lines of, “Why the heck do people want to watch someone eat a pickle?” The answer, quite simply, is ASMR: or autonomous sensory meridian response. This term is used to describe the sensation, normally a tingling, that people get in response to an auditory or visual cue (like someone eating a pickle). It’s been described as a type of auditory-tactile synesthesia, and it can be triggered by everything from whispering to the crinkling of wrapping paper. The term was coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, the founder of the first Facebook group for people who experience the phenomenon, and it has been referred to as ASMR ever since.
She made her first ASMR video in February 2011, filming herself as she leafed through a journal and played with seashells. The video logged just two views in a month, and Maria was so disappointed that she deleted it. A few months later, she tried again; this time, there were a few encouraging comments. She kept at it, and by the end of the year, she had 30,000 subscribers. Nearly three years later, she has more than 300,000.
1. Do you have different reactions depending on who is the source of the sound? For example, I have very distinctive reactions, i.e. if someone from my relatives does the mouth sounds, I get irritated and at times even angry. I even leave the kitchen if I hear my relatives making the sounds while eating. Purely biological, can’t explain it. The sounds are unpleasant for me. But if a random person or someone I barely know from an opposite sex does the mouth sounds, I can get ASMR or pleasurable feelings.
But the phenomenon has nonetheless burst into the mainstream, thanks to mounting media coverage and a few high-profile references: “Saturday Night Live” alum Molly Shannon gushed to Conan O’Brien about her “head orgasms,” induced by the methodical touch of airport security pat-downs; novelist Andrea Seigel shared her experience with ASMR on the radio program “This American Life” last year; the “Dr. Oz” show has featured ASMR videos as a way to ease insomnia.
I spoke to Dr Emma Blakey, Giulia Poerio, Tom Hostler and Theresa Veltri, who as graduate students at the University of Sheffield, are part of the new generation of ASMR researchers trying to do just that. They’re currently working on a study that will aim to see whether people who subjectively report the experience of ASMR also produce consistent physiological measures – for example, changes in heart rate, breathing rate, or skin conductance.
In an era where social media fails to provide its users with a feeling of personal connection, ASMR steps in to bridge the gap. "The number one thing that we need as human beings an attachment. That's what it’s all about. We want to attach, we don't want to feel alone or isolated. Our body does that for us. So, when we feel good, we feel close, and we feel attached. So that's what the videos are tapping into on some level," she explained.
Yet despite its challenges, further research into ASMR comes with the tantalizing potential of helping us better understand of the brain. For psychologists, it could also help enhance treatment plans for anxiety and depression, at least for some people. More poetically, it might help us understand how people feel loved. “But mainly,” says Smith, “it’s just cool.”
The uncharted territory isn’t what people experience, Richard says, but how (some people are triggered through their own thoughts and memories; others through external sights, sounds or touch) and why. To help find answers, Allen and Richard’s team launched its first rudimentary ASMR research survey last month. It received more than 4,000 responses within the first 10 days.
Few legitimate studies have been done on ASMR, and even fewer have discussed the link between it and frisson specifically. At this time[when?], much of the data on ASMR comes from primarily anecdotal sources. Although ASMR and frisson are "interrelated in that they appear to arise through similar physiological mechanisms", individuals who have experienced both describe them as qualitatively different, with different kinds of triggers. A 2018 fMRI study showed that the major brain regions already known to be activated in frisson are also activated in ASMR, and suggests that "the similar pattern of activation of both ASMR and frisson could explain their subjective similarities, such as their short duration and tingling sensation".
The 21-year-old woman behind ASMR Darling, a YouTube channel with more than two million subscribers, said she goes only by her first name, Taylor, because she has experienced stalking and a public doxxing that made her fear for her safety. She said she made her first video when she was a teenager. “Being that young and being sexualized like that, it wasn’t a good confidence boost,” she said.
While the Ephemeral Rift YouTube channel features conventional relaxing videos like trees rusting in the wind or someone shuffling wooden blocks, Paul also experiments by playing characters like Dr. Lampert Schade, a psychiatrist with a lampshade on his head, and Corvus Clemmons, a plague doctor who wears a bird-like steampunk mask. All the videos feature soft soothing sounds and no sudden movements.
YouTube pays on average $2 per 1,000 views if you run ads on your videos, but there are many other factors involved in payment. For example, not all clips have commercials on them and different genres on YouTube have different payouts, depending on popularity. Maria says she doesn't think she could sustain a family with her ASMR videos, while Paul, who does have a wife and child, points out that a YouTube career doesn't cover additional costs like health benefits.
There’s been suspicion that ASMR is a sexual pursuit, fueled by the fact that many ASMRtists are attractive young women and that cleavage is not exactly foreign to the medium. The comments beneath videos routinely make much of the ASMRtists’ attractiveness, and terms like “braingasms” and “whisper porn” are often bandied about. But in the Swansea study, only 5 percent of respondents reported using it for sexual stimulation. Granted, this is self-reported data, but the results must be vindicating to ASMRheads who find themselves battling unsavory rumors about their nighttime video-watching habits.
^ Smith, Stephen; Fredborg, Beverley Katherine; Kornelsen, Jennifer (14 August 2015). "An examination of the default mode network in individuals with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)". Social Neuroscience. 12 (4): 361–365. doi:10.1080/17470919.2016.1188851. PMID 27196787. In the current study, the default mode network (DMN) of 11 individuals with ASMR was contrasted to that of 11 matched controls.
I’m not sure how to say this, but I’ll try. I think this experience is a spiritual one. I get the impression that when we appreciate something so simple and quiet this pleases God. It’s our own willingness to accept such “insignificant” events and appreciate the beauty of things which would otherwise be discarded in our noisy and materialistic lives. The appreciation of “small” things, be it sounds, sensations, smells which would otherwise be ignored really pleases our Creator, these sensations are a gift, a “thank you” for appreciating the wonder of nature and creation in all its beauty, especially the seemingly insignifcant moments and events in time ignored and forgotten by mankind…
The left side of Makenna Kelly’s bedroom is just like any other child’s. Her silver and white bedspread matches a feature wall, she has a dresser with her own TV and her nickname – “Kenna” – is spelled out in wooden letters above the window. On the right side of her room, however, things are less ordinary. There are three professional studio lights and a tripod, a silver plaque congratulating her on 100,000 YouTube subscribers and a framed letter from Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO. Sellotaped on the closet door is the fan mail.
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.
Maria says that she hears from subscribers, including doctors and psychologists, who are excited by the ASMR research. But mostly, she gets thank-you notes — from people with anxiety or sleep disorders, from overwhelmed college students struggling through exam week, from military veterans who tell her that her videos offer a sense of calm that they can’t find elsewhere.
It turns out I had experienced my first incident of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), though I would not find that out until earlier this year when I researched hypnosis videos on YouTube that supposedly help you sleep better. ASMR isn’t a phenomenon confirmed by science, and it’s only in recent years, after people across the world began to report their ASMR experiences on the web, that scientists have even started to study it.
Being only thirteen, a new year at school always brings the excitement that I might get a teacher with one of those perfectly soft ASMR-y voices. I've only had one, but luckily I had her for two grades (grade two and three) she came from Ireland, but didn't have too strong of an accent, just enough that it would always relax me. Dang I miss that class... LOL.
I first got the tingles (as I called them) at seven years of age, I would be sitting with a friend, or alone, listening to the radio, drawing, talking, suddenly everything gets hushed, quite, talk is low, personal, close. To me, it feels like Empathy Overload! Deep feelings of shared tragedy, celebration or experience, in song, speech or shared moments of complete silence. But it’s empathy operating at a very high level, that’s what I feel. A deep understanding of the law and order of… everything,