Throughout primary and secondary school, I remember feeling incredibly relaxed when a classmate would take out a pencil and a piece of paper and start drawing. My drawing skills were never anything to brag about, but to watch another person draw with careful precision and patience lulled me into an almost euphoric state. I could watch someone draw for hours. I never thought much of this. I thought it was just another little idiosyncrasy of mine. Late last year, thanks to the glorious Internet, I discovered that the pleasure I felt while watching people draw may actually have a name. That name is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR for short. I also discovered there is a growing community on YouTube for people who experience this sensation.
So, what exactly is ASMR? It’s a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs, induced by stimuli that are usually visual or auditory.
Common triggers include:
- Slow, meticulous processes (like my drawing trigger)
- Accents and speech patterns
- Close, personal attention (e.g. scalp massages)
- Role-plays (examples include suit-fitting, haircut, dentist, cranial nerve examination)
- Watching people receive massages (think of it as second-hand pleasure, where you ‘feel’ what you imagine the recipient is feeling)
Just type “ASMR” into YouTube and you’ll be greeted by a horde of videos that will not make sense to you unless you are already immersed in the community. Perhaps the largest misconception about ASMR is that it is a sexual thing. When I get scalp tingles, they are not accompanied by an erection. The main purpose of ASMR videos is to relax. Female ASMRtists (ASMR artists) are especially annoyed by the barrage of lewd comments they receive below their videos. Sure, whispering may sound inherently seductive, but if you actually listen to what these people are saying, you’ll find they only want to calm you down and provide a retreat from your stressful day. This misconception isn’t exactly remedied by the fact that ASMR is often referred to as a “brain orgasm”.
It is important to note that not everyone experiences ASMR. If you’ve reached this far in the article and your main reaction has been “WTF?”, chances are you are not one of the lucky ones. But hey, don’t feel too left out. Scientists and academics are yet to conclude that it is even a thing. A distinction should be made between ASMR and frisson, which is the “cold shiver” you feel when you listen to an inspiring piece of music (you know: goose bumps, your arm hairs standing on end). ASMR has essentially been “discovered” by the Internet. Consider it a series of universal “OH MY GOD; ME TOO!” moments. I think the phenomenon needed a scientific neologism to boost its credence. “Head tingles” would be too vague. It needed to be called “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” to stand any chance of being taken seriously. If one ASMR video doesn’t trigger you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t experience this sensation. Just as we have our favourite pizza toppings, people in the community have their favourite triggers. Personally, I LOVE scalp massage role-plays, mouth sounds (e.g. tongue-clicking), and any rhythmic tapping or scratching. Conversely, it does absolutely nothing for me to see a towel-folding tutorial and I’m not the biggest fan of cranial nerve examinations.
I would say I am addicted to watching ASMR videos. I must get my fix every night before bed. Some people use them as sleeping aids, but I just use them to unwind. Because I watch a lot of the videos, I often get what is known as “ASMR immunity,” whereby certain videos no longer trigger me as strongly as they did on the first viewing. This happens because there are no surprises. The anticipation of a tingly part in the video distracts from the calming ability it has. I know I’ve focused a lot on the videos made by the community, but the truth is that many people don’t get their tingles from any of the videos. For some, the strongest responses come from situations in daily life where another person has no idea they are triggering ASMR. That is, they prefer to receive a haircut than watch a video of a haircut role-play. They may find themselves drifting off into a pleasurable trance because of the soothing, calculated cadence of a lecturer. In hindsight, they can still have fun with the videos, as many of them provide unintentional ASMR. One of the most popular videos in the community is this suit-fitting demonstration:
In this video, the pleasure is derived from the close, personal attention the fitter gives to the volunteer, as well as the expertise of the fitter. Hearing people talk about a subject they are very knowledgeable about has always been a trigger for me. The fitter’s accent and the occasional close-ups may also provide tingles.
Here’s another video that works wonders for me despite the uploader not intending to trigger ASMR (and probably not even knowing what it is). This triggers me in the same way watching people draw does. I admire the subtle art of calligraphy and marvel at how a human being is capable of producing such beautiful strokes of a pen. It’s the meticulous process of watching someone do what they’re good at that makes me shake with tingles. The scratching sounds also help. I once found a GIF taken from this video on Tumblr, captioned with “This is like porn to me.” It had several thousand notes, so it seems I’m not alone in finding this video incredibly relaxing.
Now let’s talk about Bob Ross. Bob Ross is a deity to the ASMR community. If you ask people what their first ASMR experiences were attributed to, they’ll often reply that they were caused by watching Ross’ show, The Joy of Painting. Growing up in Australia, I never got to see this show, but I have since checked out some clips of Ross doing his thing on YouTube. Ross is praised for his warm, soothing voice, his comforting aphorisms, and his attention-to-detail with his painting. Also, check out those fantastic scraping sounds he makes on his palette! Although I didn’t grow up with Bob Ross, I did once watch a painting show on TVS called Masterclass in Oils with Ken Harris (I believe it’s still on air for any Australians reading!). I would always feel incredibly relaxed while watching this show. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, and I did feel a bit tingly at the back of my scalp. This was long before I had heard of ASMR, and that’s what fascinates me the most. I love how I’ve always felt this feeling without knowing people experience it from the same triggers.
So, we know that zero published studies have been done on ASMR, but some people out there have suggested their own theories about what’s going on here. One theory is that ASMR is a residual response from early childhood. We remember the soothing effect of our parents’ voices and the close, personal attention we received when we were infants. Below is another theory that received a lot of upvotes when posted to Reddit (the ASMR subreddit has over 47,000 subscribers):
I’ve listed six types of ASMRtists below as a guide for those of you wishing to better understand the community. I can think of some more, but I’ll leave it at six for purposes of brevity. Take note of the recommended ASMRtists.
Whisperers induce ASMR by whispering slowly into a microphone. The best results are usually produced by whispering ear-to-ear at a consistent pace. Ideally, whispering should be incorporated into all ASMR videos, but some ASMRtists devote individual videos to nothing but whispering. Good whisperers include GentleWhispering and TheWaterwhispers.
Role-players recreate everyday scenarios to make viewers feel included and “special”. Most will not mention that they are performing a roleplay. That is, they often don’t preface their videos with “In this video I will…”. They just jump straight into the roleplay, e.g. “So I believe you’re booked in for a scalp massage?” This creates the illusion that the ASMRtist is actually a masseuse, for example, rather than a person pretending to be a qualified masseuse. Situations that would usually be unpleasant in the real world (e.g. a dentist visit) are transformed into relaxing situations. Good roleplayers include pigsbum53 and EphemeralRift.
This group generally uses everyday objects as triggers. Tapping a book, rubbing a piece of cardboard and crinkling a piece of plastic are examples of such triggers. This is generally the most spontaneous group of ASMRtists, with some not having a set agenda, instead inventing triggers as the camera rolls. Trigger assortment videos can often be longer than an hour, depending on the number of items used as triggers. Good sound experimenters include MassageASMR and Heather Feather.
Hobbyists enjoy sharing their passions with viewers. Some people enjoy hearing others speak at length about a particular topic (remember: the aspect of expertise is crucial). Examples include an ASMRtist showing off their DVD collection while whispering, unboxing a video game console, or showing the various items they purchased on a shopping trip. Think of this as “show and tell”. A good hobbyist is VisualSounds1.
As you can tell by their label, these people upload videos without showing their faces or revealing much about their identities. These ASMRtists may be shy or may lack advanced video equipment. Generally, this type of ASMRtist will upload a single image (usually a nature scene) to accompany the sounds they make. Sometimes the sound is accompanied by nothing but a black screen. Despite the lack of visual stimuli, these ASMRtists can be just as triggering as those who present themselves in their work. I actually find faceless uploaders very effective because there’s less to be distracted by. The sounds become so intense. Good faceless ASMRtists include superchillumASMR and KiwiWhispers.
The Game-Changers and the Downright Bizarre
I think they deserve their own category because the effort they put into making videos is phenomenal. This group often overlaps with the role-players. They usually approach the subject of ASMR in a playful, reflexive way. Examples include EphemeralRift (once again) and ASMRrequests (especially this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oapgiZc5i-g).
Well, I hope I’ve demystified the phenomenon of ASMR for you. I’ll leave you with my personal top five ASMR videos. These are my go-tos. These are the ones I can visit time and time again and never be disappointed. Before I do that, I’ll tell you the best environment for experiencing ASMR through videos. I find that the best results come when you are alone, lying down and wearing headphones. I advise that you watch as well as listen to the videos, but sometimes you can just listen as you browse on other tabs. So, without further ado, I present to you my top five favourite ASMR videos:
5. Your ASMR Guide (Head Massage/Close Up Whispering/Face Brushing/Gum Chewing)
Fred is very popular with the ladies and gay men, but let’s not sexualise this. He knows how to make good ASMR. I like his whispering and his smile helps me build rapport with him. The highlight of this video is his close-up whispering between 14:20 and 15:14. It gives me a giant wave of tingles every time. You might think this is creepy on the surface, but as you delve deeper into the community, you’ll realise that all these people want to do is relax you.
4. …i♥u…Close up Video…i♥u… for Lilium
Maria is arguably the most popular ASMRtist of them all. If I’m not mistaken, she was the first person to have an ASMR video eclipse one million views on YouTube. This is my favourite of her videos. It feels like an old friend is talking to you. She creates an intimate atmosphere so effortlessly. Her scalp massages are fantastic and I get crazy tingles from the part where she “removes an eyelash” from my eye (06:04 to 06:47).
3. Scalp Massage Role play/ASMR (scratching sounds)
Nicole is one of the nicest ASMRtists out there. The reason she is so good at scalp massage role-plays is that they are often the videos that trigger her. I have no idea what prop she used for the scalp massage that starts at 07:16, but it has a wonderful effect on me. The best part of this video is undoubtedly when she moves closer and scratches behind the ears at 09:37.
2. [ASMR] – Tinglestorm – ]- Intense Brain Massage -[ –
SuperchillumASMR is one of the most humble and underrated ASMRtists you will find on YouTube. His mouth sounds are incomparable to anyone else’s I have heard. I remember the first time I heard this video. It was late one night and I was in bed. I actually had to stop the video a few minutes in because the triggers were too intense. I was shaking. An ASMR video had never made me feel that way before.
1. ASMR with Dmitri – Touch Tapping 2 – Length 40mins in full HD 1080p
Dmitri is my favourite ASMRtist. He expertly selects the objects he uses to trigger ASMR and is always experimenting with new sounds. He is knowledgeable about audiovisual equipment and uploads quite prolifically. He also has one of the most soothing voices on YouTube. Most importantly, he understands the importance of rhythm and repetition. This video runs for 40 minutes and I must have tingled throughout every single one. I especially enjoy when he taps or scratches an object near one ear, and whispers in the other. A lot of people have said it’s triggering to see Dmitri “listen in” on the sounds as he’s making them, and I agree. It makes me feel as though I’m going on a process of discovery with him. Dmitri is the subject of an upcoming story for SBS 2’s The Feed. Stay tuned for that!
Well, now you know all about the wonderful world of ASMR! I’ve always felt as though I have to keep my ASMR a secret, but now I’m happy to let people know about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The community is rapidly growing, and it’s attracting more and more media attention. Happy tingling, everyone! And please let me know if you were an ASMR sceptic before reading this article and have since changed your mind!