"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?'
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 never realized this sensation had a name, but have been experiencing it from childhood. While studying about kundalini rising, I read the analogy of the thousand petal lotus blossoming on the crown of the head. I thought, ah, I know what that feels like! Sometimes reading letters from friends triggered it. Getting “picked” during a game of 7 Up triggered it. Having someone do the trick of pulling imaginary string from my palm triggered it.
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.
She has invested in her craft, upgrading to top-notch binaural microphones that carry every exhale into a listener’s ears as if Maria is standing beside them. Her videos, like most ASMR recordings, are undeniably intimate. But the intended response — although often described as “brain orgasms” — is not sexual, ASMR enthusiasts insist. (Unsurprisingly, a few of the creepier online comments insist otherwise.)
These reports have precipitated comparison between ASMR and synesthesia – a condition characterised by the excitation of one sensory modality by stimuli that normally exclusively stimulates another, as when the hearing of a specific sound induces the visualization of a distinct color, a type of synesthesia called chromesthesia. Thereby, people with other types of synesthesia report for example 'seeing sounds' in the case of auditory-visual synesthesia, or 'tasting words' in the case of lexical-gustatory synesthesia.
I have just found out about ASMR, and never knew there was an actual name for how I became so mesmerised by certain things. I don’t get tingles or anything physical, just get so entranced by the “thing” that nothing else matters, and I end up staring like a hypnotised fool at whatever the trigger has been! haha! Mostly it is aural, like accidental whispering (I don’t enjoy the deliberate whisper videos on Youtube), crinkling of packages (again, accidental, not deliberate), or sometimes it is visual, like someone quietly playing with their hair, or gently rummaging in their bag for something.
What if you don’t NEED any triggers? I have been experiencing ASMR just by will since second grade. I can have it whenever I want it, hot or freezing weather, standing, sitting, running, resting, busy, doesn’t matter. I can just do it over and over and over again with very little meditating involved or sometimes even none, just need to focus and BOOM, the brain wave goes throughout my body and the tingling and such. I can even touch some people and they get that weird wonderful sense but very limited. Just recently I can get all my fingers to have tingling feelings (before was just back of my palm, but it’s advancing, but I’m a bit worried if this is good or bad for health..)… Anybody like me at all? I feel so alone in this world for decades… and my friends just think I’m weird and creepy when I perform it (always have goosebumps)
My ASMR trigger is the inside of the refrigerator. A combination of the cool sensation, the lighting , and the humming sound just takes me to paradise. My experience with ASMR began when I was a toddler. I would open the refrigerator side…sit inside & just zone out. Now I open both sides. The cool frosty mist from the freezer, the lighting from both sides, and the ahh sound the freezer makes along with the humming of the refrigerator side intensifies the tingles
She made her first ASMR video in February 2011, filming herself as she leafed through a journal and played with seashells. The video logged just two views in a month, and Maria was so disappointed that she deleted it. A few months later, she tried again; this time, there were a few encouraging comments. She kept at it, and by the end of the year, she had 30,000 subscribers. Nearly three years later, she has more than 300,000.
I can do it without triggers. I didn’t really know what it was until today. I guess I just assumed everyone could do it. I just relax my neck and shoulders, and take shallow breaths and then feel tingles all through my head and body. I’ve been doing it all day today. Especially when I think about someone taking care of me or thinking about me. Like I said I didn’t even know this was a thing until today, so maybe I’m way off lol.
The first study to perform actual brain imaging (fMRI) on subjects currently experiencing ASMR tingles (as opposed to individuals who were merely able to experience the phenomenon) was published in BioImpacts in September 2018. Subjects viewed several ASMR videos with a screen and headphones while inside the MRI scanner. The study found a significant difference in brain activation between time periods when the subject reported tingling (communicated by pressing a button), as compared to time periods when they were watching a video but not reporting tingling (communicated by pressing a different button, to control for brain activation effects caused by merely pressing a button). They concluded that "the brain regions found most active during the tingling sensations were the nucleus accumbens, mPFC, insula and secondary somatosensory cortex", and suggested that these were similar to "activation of brain regions previously observed during experiences like social bonding and musical frisson".
And while the sensory things CAN aid in the effect, and the videos can work, unlike the other times, it is only if I allow it to because I can recall the sensation and somehow tap into it based on associated memories. The whispers to me are part of this because for me it meant someone cared enough to share something special with me. Same with the hair sensations. I felt special/loved when people did my hair. Therefore getting my hair cut or washed by a hairdresser will not usually cause it on its own other than the fact that I have had decades to tap into similar memories and call it up.
Replies to this post indicated that a significant number of other people had experienced the sensation which "okaywhatever" described - also in response to witnessing mundane events. The interchanges precipitated the formation of a number of web-based locations intended to facilitate further discussion and analysis of the phenomenon for which there were plentiful anecdotal accounts, yet no consensus-agreed name nor any scientific data or explanation.