To date, only one research paper has been published on the phenomenon. In March last year, Emma Barratt, a graduate student at Swansea University, and Dr Nick Davis, then a lecturer at the same institution, published the results of a survey of some 500 ASMR enthusiasts. “ASMR is interesting to me as a psychologist because it’s a bit ‘weird’” says Davis, now at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The sensations people describe are quite hard to describe, and that’s odd because people are usually quite good at describing bodily sensation. So we wanted to know if everybody’s ASMR experience is the same, and of people tend to be triggered by the same sorts of things.”
The study is still ongoing, and results have not yet been published. But for his part, Richard has been developing a theory of what ASMR is and why it exists. His theory isn't exactly scientific, but it is beautiful: He notes that the quality that underlies almost all ASMR videos is what’s been called a “tranquil, womb-like intimacy.” That is, ASMRtists speak softly into the ears of headphone-wearing viewers, gently coaxing them to sleep by way of assiduous personal attention, comforting words, smiles and simulated stroking. At its most essential level, Richard believes, all the intimacy channeled through towel foldings and whispered affection is about triggering the felt experience of being loved.
ASMR is a relatively new phenomenon sweeping the audiophile community. Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) affects millions of people, and even more, may not realize there is a name to their feelings. Those who experience ASMR have different reactions to a variety of types of sounds, all positive. Some feel tingly, some sleepy, and most feel relaxed. The types of sounds include whispering, tapping, crackling, touching, and popping, as well as many more.
Richard and his team ask participants to rank the way they’d most prefer to experience ASMR, if YouTube weren’t the only option. (Data from the Swansea University study shows most people have their first ASMR experiences as children, through real-life interactions with family and friends.) “Receiving light touches with my eyes closed” ranked first; sound triggers were below and visual ones lower still—an echo, Richards says, of how the senses develop in human beings.
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?”
Have you ever undergone a sleep study? I suspect you have narcolepsy, as I do. Have a night time sleep study followed directly by a daytime sleep study. This is the only way to determine whether or not you have narcolepsy. Do not waste money having either of these done without the other as it will not lead to any conclusion as to whether or not you are narcoleptic. Often when only a night time sleep study is done and some sort of disturbance is found, it is assumed that this is the only cause of the symptoms. This is not necessarily true as day time narcoleptic symptoms are in no way influenced by night time sleep quality or duration. Although I often suffer from insomnia as most narcoleptics do, my night time sleep study showed no disturbances over a full 8 hours of sleep. During my daytime sleep study which proceeding directly after, my average daytime sleep onset latency was 3.2 minutes. This is the time between lying down with eyes closing to clinically asleep, recorded during several trials throughout the day in which I was made to sit up out of bed and remain awake for 2 hours prior to being told to lie down with my eyes closed until falling asleep, then being woken after 15 minutes of sleep. My results were extreme. But anyone who can fall asleep in less than 5 minutes has narcolepsy. Many people believe that they can and have done so, however, with the exception of extreme sleep deprivation, similar to POWs and other torture victims, this is just not the case unless he person is narcoleptic. Other sleep disorders, such as apnea or restless leg, will not result in the level of sleep deprivation necessary to produce a 5 minute or less daytime sleep onset latency. Narcolepsy is the only disorder that will do so. There are also REM sleep abnormalities experienced by narcoleptics which can be found during such a sleep study. I hope that helps. There isn’t much that can be done for narcolepsy. There are prescription drugs that may help. But for me, being diagnosed was most beneficial in that it gave an explanation for my behavior that at least some people could understand, as opposed to having people viewing your behavior as irresponsible, rude, lazy, etc.
The contemporary history of ASMR began on 19 October 2007 on a discussion forum for health-related subjects at a website called Steady Health. A 21-year-old registered user with the handle "okaywhatever" submitted a post describing having experienced a specific sensation since childhood, comparable to that stimulated by tracing fingers along the skin, yet often triggered by seemingly random and unrelated non-haptic events, such as "watching a puppet show" or "being read a story".
If you watch ASMR slime videos (or just any old ASMR videos) to go to sleep, Winter says there's no reason why you should stop. “It’s the 2017 version of counting sheep,” he says. “If you feel like it’s enhancing your ability to fall asleep, that’s great.” However, if you find that you struggle to go to sleep without watching an ASMR video, he recommends taking a break from videos every now and then and mentally conjuring up the image of someone massaging slime or having their hair brushed. That, too, should help kick you into relaxation mode and help you catch some zzzs.
I first encountered ASMR, as do most people, as a child. I never knew exactly what it was. I experienced it when certain teachers spoke, during certain TV shows and at the dentist. I didn’t understand the sensation but enjoyed it, and would try and stay very calm and relaxed every time it happened to try and lengthen my experience of it. You can read the full story of how I found ASMR in this post.
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.
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As for what can trigger episodes in people, it almost always involves close interaction with another person. Usually, that other person is speaking to you in soft or deep tones, and always kindly. There’s usually also a component of adjacent sound coming from an inanimate object that, in conjunction with a person’s voice, helps trigger the episode. This can be the sound of scissor blades scraping together during a haircut, the sound of someone turning magazine pages, or, in my case, the sound of pennies sliding across concrete.
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.)
ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is still a relatively new creation. It describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain videos or hears certain sounds. What kind of visual or audio clips can create such a lovely feeling? It might surprise you, but the videos are of people doing incredibly simple, quiet, calming tasks, such as folding towels, brushing their hair, or flipping magazine pages. You might hear someone’s voice speaking in the background of the video, but not always. The audio clips often consist of voices whispering nice things (like "You are appreciated"), or contain the sound of tapping, scratching, or rain.
Plus, it’s logistically difficult to study a phenomenon that requires quiet and prefers solitude. As Smith points out, fMRI machines are noisy and EEG tests (which Smith’s team also tried) involve attaching “goop and sensors” to the scalp, potentially interfering with the ability to feel tingles. As Smith puts it, “the tools we have are not relaxing.”
One category depends upon external triggers in order to experience the localized sensation and its associated feelings, which typically originates in the head, often reaching down the neck and sometimes the upper back. The other category can intentionally augment the sensation and feelings through attentional control, without dependence upon external stimuli, or 'triggers', in a manner compared by some subjects to their experience of meditation.