But, as Wired UK reported, there's another side to the subculture: Kids as young as 5 years old are making their own ASMR videos — and making good money in the process. Wired spoke with 13-year-old Makenna Kelly, who makes ASMR videos for the 1.3 million subscribers to her "Life with MaK" channel. In some of her most viewed videos, Makenna eats instant ramen noodles and glides makeup brushes over a microphone.
“There needs to be a careful balance between skepticism and open-mindedness when investigating ASMR,” the Sheffield group say. “There is also of course the danger that ASMR videos get picked up by people who might try and use them to market pseudoscience or mental health benefits (without the evidence to support it), and inadvertently spread misinformation about it, which would of course damage the reputation of any genuine research going on,” they add. We’ve already started to see cases of this – just this week, in an interview with the Daily Mail, ASMR video producer Lauren Ostrowksi Fenton claimed that the sensation is produced by oxytocin, which she refers to as “the cuddle hormone, the hugging hormone, or the feel-good hormone”. Besides the fact that there’s simply no evidence that oxytocin is responsible for the sensation, the science behind the claim that oxytocin is a “hug hormone” is itself extremely weak.
Binaural recordings are made specifically to be heard through headphones rather than loudspeakers. When listening to sound through loudspeakers, the left and right ear can both hear the sound coming from both speakers. By distinction, when listening to sound through headphones, the sound from the left earpiece is audible only to the left ear, and the sound from the right ear piece is audible only to the right ear. When producing binaural media, the sound source is recorded by two separate microphones, placed at a distance comparable to that between two ears, and they are not mixed, but remain separate on the final medium, whether video or audio.
Over at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences, runs the clearinghouse website ASMR University, where he interviews people who’ve studied the phenomenon and blogs about ASMR in the news. Richard himself reports experiencing ASMR; nevertheless, he says scientific skepticism is warranted until more studies are published. To that end, Richard and two other researchers, Allen and a graduate student, have been conducting an online survey that he says so far includes 20,000 people across over 100 countries, almost all of them “tingleheads.”
There is little scientific research on the phenomenon—the first scientific paper on it was published on the open-access journal PeerJ in 2015. That study had nearly 500 people who subscribed to Facebook or Reddit ASMR groups fill out a questionnaire about their online ASMR habits and why they engaged in them. Most people said they watched the videos to help them relax, de-stress, and get to sleep. (Only five percent said they watch the videos for sexual reasons.)
The study asked a range of questions about where, when and why people watch ASMR videos, whether there was any consistency in ASMR-triggering content, as well as whether individuals felt it had any effect on their mood. There was a remarkable consistency across participants in terms of triggering content – whispering worked for the majority of people, followed by videos involving some sort of personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. For the most part, participants reported that they watched ASMR videos for relaxation purposes, or to help them sleep or deal with stress. Only 5% of participants reported that they used ASMR media for sexual stimulation, which is counter to a common perception of the videos found online. “There are a lot of people who latch onto some ASMR videos involving attractive women and dismiss what we found to be a very nuanced activity as exclusively sexual. Our findings will hopefully dispel that idea,” explains Barratt. “The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person,” adds Davis.
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.
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,
There is no solid data about ASMR, no published research studies — not yet. The term “ASMR” is nonclinical, coined in 2010 by a woman named Jennifer Allen who started an ASMR Facebook group and later became part of a team — along with Richard — that collected and analyzed anecdotal information about the sensation. Richard also notes the work of Bryson Lochte, a Dartmouth College undergrad who has used neuroimaging technology to study ASMR for his senior thesis but has not published his results.
I just discovered I was capable of triggering tingles on purpose this past month, after it popped into my head one day to seek out a video of a cat grooming itself (my trigger) to see if I could purposely trigger that weird relaxing feeling that I had experienced occasionally growing up, but had never really fully thought about. So that was pleasant. Then oddly enough a week ago I attempted to articulate this experience to a friend at a party (not knowing the term ASMR – nor even aware that it was a known thing, I simply described it as this peaceful, totally non-sexual, relaxed feeling I get from watching cats grooming themselves). Against all odds, this friend said, “oh, you’re probably experiencing ASMR – you should look it up.” Needless to say – it’s nice to find that indeed there’s an entire community of people online that have the same capability. Thought I’d share my experience and ask a couple questions.
“The reason people can get tingles and feel relaxed and comforted listening to Maria GentleWhispering is because she’s acting very much the way a parent would care for you,” he says, “with the caring glances, gentle speech and soothing hand movements. And a lot of the time she’s doing simulated touching. It’s pattern recognition. Our brains recognize the pattern of someone with a caring glance, someone with a gentle whisper, and we find that comforting.”
The most popular stuff discussed amongst ASMR community is whispering and tapping – and I get it a bit from that – but one thing is, I know that when the person is addressing me (or the camera as it may be), that seems to dispel ASMR for me. In fact, I’d say a pre-req for me to ASMR is that I am in the role of passive observer – perhaps that speaks to my personality? I know I have introverted tendencies. That leads me to the first of my questions:
In 2015, two psychology researchers at Swansea University in Wales published the first peer-reviewed research study on the phenomenon, in which they tried to do the bedrock work of describing and classifying ASMR. After surveying 475 people who report experiencing “the tingles,” they found that a sizable majority sought out ASMR videos on YouTube to help them sleep, and to deal with stress. Most viewers found they felt better after watching these videos and for some time after, including those who scored high on a survey for depression. Some of the subjects who suffered from chronic pain also said the videos decreased their symptoms.
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'.