It’s been described as a “brain massage”, and people all over the world watch similar videos – usually someone seeming to give you their undivided attention – to de-stress or drift off to sleep of an evening. Experts explain that it’s about feelings of intimacy and empathy. If you think this sounds like a weird sex thing – no, as it happens, this isn’t a weird sex thing, though the phenomena has been nicknamed a “brain orgasm”. In 2015, a study found that 98 percent of ASMR-loving respondents use the videos to simply relax, while for 70 percent it was stress relief. Only 5 percent said it’s about sexual stimulation (for those people, may we recommend the very whispery ‘Je T’aime Moi Non Plus’ from Jane Birkin and Serge Gainboroug…). There are plenty of songs, too, with evocative sounds – brittle beats, tongue clicks and more – that’ll appeal to those who experience ASMR.
It's funny - for me some of these clips didn't quite work. But they sure did for my rabbit who listens to various forms of media - tv, radio, conference calls, me - most of the day. He usually is quite a passive listener and will only occasionally respond with ear turning or a change in position that shows he's listening to something different that has caught his attention.
Overall, the research “suggests there are emotional and physiological benefits” to watching ASMR for those who experience it, says Poerio. However there is still no hard data on how many people actually experience the sensation. Because previous studies have relied on volunteers rather than representative samples of the general population, she says, the studies can't say how common—or rare—ASMR truly is.
Emotionally, Kelly and Daniel seem equipped to deal with this backlash (Aoki Hunnicutt remains blissfully unaware of any negativity, and also much else about YouTube fame – at one point during our interview, she asks with concern, “Mummy, I thought we were going to do an interview?”). Yet while they are fine with their fame, it may trouble the young stars to lose it.
There are some ASMR triggers which you will find reoccur regularly in ASMR videos. Everyone’s personal triggers will vary slightly, what works for other people won’t necessarily work for you. Running through the list of triggers below might help you find new ASMR triggers that you didn’t know about, or hadn’t thought of before. Or if you are not sure whether you experience ASMR yourself, have a look at the list and you should be able to tell by the end. Remember, these are just the most common, and won’t necessarily work for everyone, so don’t worry if they don’t all give you tingles.
When she first felt it, she had no idea what it was. In kindergarten in central Russia, Maria and her friends would sometimes tickle each other gently, running their fingers over the skin of their forearms. For Maria, the experience was transcendent, sending a cascade of goosebumps over her head and down her back: “I would be left in a zombie-like state,” she says. “I would just be so relaxed.”
The only way someone can feel what we here, obviously feel, that isn’t inflicted with ASMR. Is to go out with friends, to your favourite club, drop pure MDMA, and wait….I’ll see you on the dance floor. I’ll be the six foot seven Infantry Soldier, waiting for you to come dancing, I’ll be dancing with the biggest smile on my face, for you, dancing with friends, lovers, strangers, until we’re all fucking annihilated, lying on the dance floor, in one mind, one moment, one achievement, shared and experienced together, forever and ever and ever. Then we go home, have a shower, lie down, and feel refreshed, and wonderfully happy, exhilarated just to exist, Lying there, that very moment, is what ASMR feels like. That beautiful feeling of peaceful serenity and contentment, just to be alive and kicking, together, connected, forever. That chemically induced empathic euphoria, is the only feeling that comes close to what ASMR feels like.
Like many corners of the internet, there’s also a sense of comradery in being outside the norm. According to the Instagram user who runs an chalk-eating ASMR repost account, this has helped build trust in the community. “We all know we are a little left of average in what we find stimulates our ASMR experience, so there’s solidarity and kinship as well," the user said.
Having previously practiced yoga and meditation for over 10 years, I can induce ASMR at will, or "bliss", as it's called in the spiritual community. It's often part of the very first steps on a spiritual journey, though no requirement. These videos didn't induce ASMR in me though, so maybe it's a different sensation than "bliss", or different triggers.
The first time I remember ASMR I was in pre-school and a girl who was normally not nice to me was kind to me. I think she tied my shoes for me. To this day, this is the strongest trigger. My Twitter name (I am the mom over our geeky pack) is a clue to why this did not happen all the time. I was not popular though well liked in my group of uncool kids. So when the popular kids or someone I held in high regard (teacher, etc) gave me attention that was above and beyond, my whole head would tingle.
The most popular source of stimuli reported by subjects to be effective in triggering ASMR is video. Videos reported being effective in triggering ASMR fall into two categories, identified and named by the community as 'Intentional' and 'Unintentional'. Intentional media is created by those known within the community as 'ASMRtists' with the purpose of triggering ASMR in viewers and listeners. Unintentional media is that made for other purposes, often before attention was drawn to the phenomenon in 2007, but which some subjects discover to be effective in triggering ASMR. One early unintentional example is the Art Bears song 'The Bath of Stars.' Another example of unintentional media several journalists have noted is of famed painter Bob Ross. In episodes of his popular television series The Joy of Painting both broadcast and on YouTube, his soft, gentle speaking mannerisms and the sound of him painting and his tools trigger the effect on many of his viewers. The work of stop-motion filmmaker PES is also often noted.
Kelly knows that she inspires other kids to take up ASMR – children at school ask for advice on how to make popular YouTube videos. At one football game recently, kids swamped Kelly for photos. “It was like… crazy,” Kelly whispers dramatically. “I went with friends and we walked past this group of cheerleaders and they all got quiet. They came up one after another and were like, ‘Let’s take a picture.’”