ASMR is described as a pleasurable tingling that begins in the head and scalp, shimmies down the spine and relaxes the entire body. Maria — she asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons; her videos have sometimes attracted unwanted attention — experiences ASMR, and her YouTube channel, GentleWhispering, melds her personal tingle-triggers with others suggested by her fans. The resulting videos have drawn more than 87 million views, making Maria the premier celebrity of a controversial but increasingly recognized phenomenon.
“Our research studies consistently show that ASMR is a relaxing, calming sensation that increases feelings of social connectedness,” Giulia Poerio (a co-author of the study), told Newsweek. “Importantly, we found that ASMR videos produce significant reductions in heart rate in people who experience ASMR. So we now have more objective evidence of the idea that ASMR is relaxing. It’s not just people telling us that ASMR makes them feel relaxed—their physiology is telling us the same thing too.”
YouTube banned Makenna’s channel for three days in November but reinstated it after discussions with the family. The company’s delayed decision against its largest child ASMRtist leaves questions about whether the phenomenon can be adequately monitored. Videos featuring the sexualisation of minors are banned by the site, and ASMR “mouth sound” videos now fall within this remit. Yet at the time of writing, a search for “child ASMR mouth sounds” on YouTube brings up hundreds of videos with a disturbing number of views.
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,
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?”
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.