You’re at a Super Bowl party, heading to refill your plate with nachos, when you’re stopped by the sounds of Zoe Kravitz softly whispering into microphones and gently tapping her nails against a bottle of Michelob Ultra. You’re captivated, oddly relaxed and even feeling a little tingly. You, my friend, have just experienced ASMR — or autonomous sensory meridian response.
I’m glad that it’s at least showing up for you occasionally. It certainly seems to affect people differently and it’s an incredibly strange, though wonderful, phenomenon. I don’t pretend to understand it fully myself, and haven’t done research on it other than to check if it’s harmful, which from what I’ve seen doesn’t seem to be an issue. My reactions seem to have gotten more intense lately, sometimes to the point of having to pause the video for a short while in order to calm it down a bit.
"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?'
A: People think it might be like a fetish community, almost. But it really is a relaxation technique and a community. There’s been a couple studies on it, actually. Basically, people who experience ASMR have their heart rate go down — they are physically relaxed — so it’s the opposite of sexual arousal. It is something that we think you have or don’t have. Some people say, “Oh, my gosh, this makes me want to punch somebody,” and that’s called misophonia. Sometimes some types of ASMR won’t work for some people, and that’s all right. I recommend trying one. There are so many kinds to check out.
Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those like the sound of rain, fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crushing of eggshells, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, or writing. Many YouTube videos that are intended to trigger ASMR responses capture a single person performing these actions and the sounds that result.