ASMR: What's This All About?
The internet has taken us to a strange place.
So, let's kick this off with the obvious question: what is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It's a strange name that doesn't really explain what the thing is, but the term is used to describe the sensation when a person has a specific physical response to hearing a specific type of noise. It is most often described as "head tingles." It's when your scalp perks up in goosebumps, which then causes a relaxing sensation with it. It's like getting a scalp massage without being touched. When the sensation gets stronger, the tingles can manifest in goosebumps down the neck and arms as well. Millions of people claim to experience this sensation, and while it all sounds like it's bullshit, the thousands of ASMR videos on YouTube would suggest that maybe it isn't a bunch of crap.
Before the gloriousness that is the internet, people experienced weird sensations and never talked about them for fear of being shunned as the weird person. That's why there's still such a strong movement to get people to go to the doctor when experiencing sensations that are a warning sign of medical emergencies. It was instinctual to keep these things to ourselves. Now that we have this amazing anonymous electronic mask that can make us appear in any manner we wish, we're a little more open to sharing the weird stuff. So, it actually comes as no surprise that this topic is a relatively recent subject that has taken off really quickly in a small amount of time.
After speaking with a close friend of mine that has been studying psychology for many, many years, I found out that this sensation is not officially recognized and has not been studied in any large-scale official capacity with full peer review. However, due to the boom in subject prevalence on the internet and the millions of ASMR video hits, it is a topic that is now being investigated by researchers and college students in several countries. It'll likely still be several years before any official or concrete findings are shared since studies on these types of claims have to be scrutinized so closely due to it being difficult to actually measure. However, some emerging studies and links to other sources can be found here if you'd like a springboard for your own research into the subject.
Your next logical question might be "What kind of sounds do people listen to?" To be honest, about anything. However, there are big categories of sounds that many people share. There's food/drinking sounds, whispering, crinkles (and other higher pitched noises), and tapping (which is often described as more "bassy"). Now, from there you can find hundreds of subcategories that get really specific. Anything from pickle eating to microphone brushing (it sounds like ocean waves with no annoying seagulls) to specific products and even role-play videos. From the outside, it's all really weird and just gets weirder the longer you look at it. So, before you check out entirely on me, let's back up one moment and discuss the idea of listening to sounds instead of music.
We have all gone into general stores, bargain department stores, and gas stations when we were younger and played with the sound display where you could listen to tapes or cds before buying them. There were always some meditation or relaxation audio sets of things like rain storms or waves or whale songs or someone playing a lonely flute on a windy hill. These have been around for ages. Now they've gone by the wayside because they were replaced with phone apps that provided all this same content in greater, newer variety. Most people admit to loving a rainstorm and "I sleep so well when it rains." So, if we carry this idea that certain noises are reasonably relaxing, then it really isn't that big of a jump to the ASMR area on YouTube.
So why are these weird videos so popular? Because people can now request specific noises directly to people making videos, or even make their own videos with the purchase of some simple equipment. We all have experiences that were enjoyable and we associate certain sounds with those memories. One semi-universal experience is getting a hair cut. A simple experience, yet one most adults enjoy. It's a nice time. You get some light conversation, personal attention, maybe a scalp massage, and physical touch that has no social cost to it. (Yes, you pay a person to cut your hair, but there's no weird social risk. People won't ask you the next day if you're involved with your stylist because they were touching you. It's just a nice experience that leaves you feeling good all over.) So, it actually makes sense that content creators are recreating those types of experiences for people to listen to. They get wigs and put them on mannequin heads with strategically placed microphones (multiple mics create 3D sound and require head phones fully experience). You get the noises of hair brushing, scissors snipping, water being spritzed on hair, and maybe even some small talk. Personally, I always liked the sound the comb and scissors made when they clicked together while my stylist was going from comb to scissors. It's an oddly specific noise, but one only heard in that situation.
When people embrace this weird part of themselves enjoying certain noises, they find so much relaxation in mundane noises. I think we can all agree that the world is fucking stressful, so any harmless way people are relaxing has to be a good thing, right? People use these videos to sleep, study, meditate, and just generally unwind. I, myself, have been sucked into this weird corner of the internet. I have a lot of troubles sleeping. I don't drink caffeine, my brain just won't shut up most days. On top of that, my husband snores. Even further on top of all that, I'm highly stressed. I started listening to these videos out of genuine curiosity one day and I haven't been able to stop. I've also taken a lot of people down this road with me. All of them were reluctant to go, but two weeks after sending them a video, they sent me messages telling me they hate that I got them started on all this because now they can't stop because it's the best sleep they've had in ages. I also find that these sounds are a great way to stay focused while writing papers or reading for class because they aren't distracting in the same way music can be and they tune my surroundings out. Students in high school and college are actually some of the biggest subscribing demographics. I even listened to them while getting a large tattoo in a painful spot to help me zone out and I ended up falling asleep for about an hour.
By now you're probably either wondering if you have this response to noises or you've realized you do have it and generally are curious about looking into these videos. At the bottom of this article I will include a list of ASMR video creators that are very popular and produce high quality videos, just as a jumping off place if you are curious.
So, yeah, this weird thing called ASMR has gone from this phenomenon we all didn't realize others experienced as well, to this widely discussed topic with millions of people watching videos on the internet that are designed to specifically trigger the sensation. Twenty years ago, if you had asked anyone where they thought the internet was going to go, they probably wouldn't have said "I bet people will scratch microphones for hours on end for money." If you had told people then that this would become a popular thing, most people probably would have said you were crazy. Maybe we all are crazy, but it's hard to argue with this weird thing when it actually helps you sleep. So, before I let you loose on YouTube, let me give you some search pointers.
- Not all video creators are equal. A simple truth.
- The phrase "no talking" is very important to include in your searches if you hate listening to people whisper.
- You can search for about anything with the letters ASMR. It gets weird fast if you're not careful.
- Don't let the weird videos turn you off from finding some good ones that may help you relax.
- Don't forget your headphones. The sounds have to be directly in your ear. 3D sounds help construct audio in a way that sounds more authentic and hits your eardrums a specific way. It's the best way to trigger the sensation. Plus, many sounds are very gentle and can't be heard easily without headphones or earbuds.
As promised, below is a list of video creators that are popular and have a very wide variety of content. Because this topic is kind of weird in general, these are some of the creators that are the most appealing because of their quality of content...hence all the subscribers. You won't find anything too "out there" on their pages and can browse with ease. They all clearly state what their videos include in the descriptions, some with detailed timestamps, and they have clean audio with clean videos. I do recommend a little exploration to find what your triggers may be.
This list is in no particular order and I have not been asked by any of these creators to advertise for them. I compiled this list through independent research into popular content creators.