The ASMR Phenomenon

Recently, there’s been some discussion regarding ASMR and what it is exactly, amongst not only the folks at Spoiler Country, but also in my own personal circle.  I’ll admit that when I was first told about ASMR, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard.  You mean to tell me that you sit with your headphones on and just listen to people whisper random things about their day?  What on Earth could a person possibly glean from that?  Now, approximately 3 years later, I am a complete and total addict.  An ASMR convert.  A fiend for tapping nails and crinkly bags.

It all started when my friend, Jessica, explained to me that she had become obsessed with ASMR herself, and had begun making her own videos on YouTube, which is where the majority of ASMR content can be found.  Her description of the effect: “Have you ever heard someone talking to you softly, or tapping their fingers on a desk, and it just gave you the chills, and you never wanted them to stop?  That’s ASMR.”  My first opinion was that this is completely ridiculous, but I had to admit, I had experienced this before.  I remember one incident, at an old job of mine, where a young woman was training me how to fill out certain paperwork.  The soft way that she spoke, some strange little mouth sounds that she would make, gave me little chills down my spine, as if someone was lightly rubbing my back.  After a couple of minutes, I really didn’t care what she said anymore; I just didn’t want her to stop. 

I didn’t explore the world of ASMR right away.  However, I was having some nights of anxiety when I just couldn’t relax and get to sleep.  So, I decided to give it a try.  At first, I couldn’t feel a thing.  I just felt silly, or certain sounds would really irritate me.  Then, I turned on a video of a Russian woman doing what’s called a roleplay, where she essentially pretended that she was giving me a manicure.  She had the bowl of water, a nail file – the whole works.  And then – it happened!  I got those pleasant little chills that I had been hearing about, and I am happy to say that I drifted into a deep sleep the likes that I hadn’t experienced for a while. 

So now that you’d heard my story, I guess I should answer the question that some of you still have – what is ASMR?  AMSR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.  The process starts with visual and/or audio stimuli, which creates a tingling sensation that begins at the back of the scalp and travels down the spine, at times reaching to the upper extremities, as well.  Throughout its increasing popularity within the last decade, scientists have attempted to determine where this response originates in the human brain through the use of fMRIs, or functional magnetic resonance imaging.  The jury is still out amongst many in the scientific world, but there seems to be a theory that the response originates from the parietal ventral area and the insular cortex, both integral in our responses to emotional bonding and physical sensation, as well as the nucleus accumbens, which plays a role in learned or habitual behavior.  The amateur scientist in me wonders if this means that the ability to experience ASMR is something that we each make a subconscious effort to attain; it has been shown that some individuals experience more of an aversion to ASMR as opposed to euphoria.  However, scientists also agree that the response is a legitimately real one, as thousands upon thousands of subjects have reported the same experiences separate and apart from one another.  Ultimately, the brain is a mysterious place, and one that research has yet to breach to even a midline percentage.  So, who’s to know? 

Individuals who create AMSR are known as ASMRtists, and there is a plethora of them to be found on YouTube.  The most popular videos seem to be roleplays, wherein the ASMRtist pretends that the listener is in the room, and that an event is taking place.  These events may include make overs, haircuts, manicures, eye brow consultations, costume making, interior design consultations, medical examinations, facials and extractions, as well as some stranger ones, such as alien abductions and demon possessions.  Other videos include shopping hauls, where the ASMRtist will show and explain items that were purchased at a particular store, the reading of an issue of a magazine, or even simple guided meditations.

ASMRtists make use of multiple triggers in order to evoke a response.  Some of the most common are the crinkling of bags, tapping of objects with finger nails, hair brushing, light clicking sounds, mouth sounds, and yes, even chewing. (This is not one of my favorites.)  An ASMRtist may speak very lightly during a video or whisper, or at times not speak at all and simply let the sounds do the trick.  There are also visual cues that some find effective, such as watching someone’s hair being brushed or quickly flitting their fingers across the screen of the video.  I’ve never found this to be very effective; I prefer to listen to my ASMR.  However, my friend Jessica that I spoke of earlier has told me that this has a very strong effect on her.

As the art of ASMR has grown in leaps and bounds, so has the equipment that is used.  Some of the more polished ASMRtists have gone from using simply their webcam and an audio recorder to making use of hi-def video equipment and clip on mics.  Some use what is known as a 3DIO mic, which is shaped in the loose form of a head with two ears.  This equipment allows ASMRtists to create ear to ear sounds and effects, as well as realistic roleplays such as ear cleaning and hair styling.

3DIO Mic

To anyone who has not experienced the uber relaxation of an ASMR video, I know that this all may seem very strange.  As I stated above, I thought the same thing!  However, as weird as you may feel at first, if you are even just a little bit curious, I encourage you to give it a try and see what you think.  Try some different triggers, and see what works for you.  Or, if you are currently an ASMR fiend such as me, drop a comment and tell me about your favorite artists and triggers!  I’ve listed some of my favorites below.  Enjoy, folks, and be well.

  • Jonie ASMR
  • Prim ASMR
  • Madi ASMR
  • Crystal ASMR
  • Gentle Whispers
  • Creative Calm ASMR
  • LottieLoves ASMR
  • Yvette ASMR
  • SophieMichelle ASMR

Author: Sara Varner

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