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.
While scientific evidence is pretty scarce, the number of devotees is overwhelming: ASMR online groups and forums are flooded with stories of people suffering from unbearable and incurable anxiety or insomnia until they came across Bob Ross' soothing voice on late-night TV or heard pages gently turning in a library. (Related: Incredibly Odd Insomnia Cures People Actually Try)
The main trigger though is being in large open areas with no one around, even seeing pictures of large open areas can trigger it. I used to work at a college that had several buildings, modern buildings, not ivy covered brick. One was not classrooms, but an area with offices and occasional banquets, so it was mainly empty and quiet. I used to sit there on breaks just to get that relaxation tingly sensation.Is this ASMR or something else?
Smithsonian: "How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR" — "The burgeoning Internet phenomenon was so new, it didn’t even have a name. It was so strange and hard to describe that many people felt creepy trying. It resided at the outer edge of respectability: a growing collection of YouTube videos featuring people doing quiet, methodical activities like whispering, turning magazine pages and tapping their fingers. Some viewers reported that these videos could elicit the most pleasurable sensations: a tingling feeling at the scalp and spine, coupled with euphoria and an almost trance-like relaxation.
For many people they might have experienced the sensation of ASMR before but not necessarily understand it, or seek it out too seriously. When you first find the ASMR community online it can be a very exciting time, knowing that you are part of a group and a very welcoming community. However it can also be very overwhelming and it isn’t particularly clear where to start. For some great tips to help you get the most from your ASMR you should check out our free ebook.
“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.”
And just last month, Richard and colleagues published data that shows results of fMRI brain imaging scans for 10 individuals (who all previously reported experiencing ASMR) as they watched an ASMR video and reported feeling the sensation. The parts of the brain active when we’re socially engaged with others, when we feel empathy, and when our brain’s reward centers are on, appeared to be active when people said they experienced ASMR.
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.
Mockery is a problem for any child in the limelight – one of Jacob Daniel’s fellow ASMRtist United founders quit YouTube after being picked on at school. Kelly says there are rumours that one girl at school said she was “annoying”, but most people think her channel is “cool”. Yet Kelly isn’t just a famous ASMRtist – she is also a meme. On social media, people edit her videos into short clips and share them with relatable captions.
In a series of Instagram direct messages, the woman who runs the self-described "ASMR-PICA" account @tasteetastetastik told Motherboard that although she does not believe that she has pica, she got into the community after several months of using Instagram for voyeurism and making foam-focused ASMR videos. “Well I didn’t start eating it [chalk] until I was faced with stress,” she said. “Had some reoccuring family issues and it kind of propelled from there.”
Bob Ross ALWAYS triggers this response (I have 15+ Joy of Painting episodes saved on my DVR right now). While all the other videos triggered my ASMR somewhat, the Rushka tea one had the most effect. I also like to watch people doing crafts (the sound of scissors cutting construction paper is amazing). Getting a massage or just watching someone get a massage (I can even read the description of spa treatments & have an ASMR response!) I love my hair to be played with too! As you probably know, the list can go on forever!!
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”.
In addition to the effectiveness of specific auditory stimuli, many subjects report that ASMR is triggered by the receipt of tender personal attention, often comprising combined physical touch and vocal expression, such as when having their hair cut, nails painted, ears cleaned, or back massaged, whilst the service provider speaks quietly to the recipient. Furthermore, many of those who have experienced ASMR during these and other comparable encounters with a service provider report that watching an "ASMRtist" simulate the provision of such personal attention, acting directly to the camera as if the viewer were the recipient of a simulated service, is sufficient to trigger it.