Whether you realize it or not, you’ve definitely been exposed to ASMR at one point in your life. Like watching your dog chew on his treat? That’s ASMR for you. Find total bliss in a scalp massage? Yep, ASMR. Someone tracing circles on your palms making you feel all fuzzy? ASMR. The sound of crackling firewood? ASMR. Those hypnotic, undulating candle flames? ASMR.
“Okay, okay, we get it.” But what exactly is ASMR?
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is an experience that is characterized by a static-like, tingling sensation on your skin. Typically, it begins on the scalp, and moves down the back of your neck and upper spine, making you feel relaxed and comforted. This feeling is known as a ‘tingle’.
“So, ASMR is like a massage for your brain.”
Yeah, you could put it that way. The term ASMR was coined by Jennifer Allen in 2010, and soon after, it exploded on the internet. People started looking for like-minded others who shared the same tingles they experienced when exposed to certain stimuli.
Feeling the tingles through ASMR is a highly personal experience – triggers vary for different individuals, as does the reaction you get. Some feel a sense of serenity. Some feel slightly disgusted and uncomfortable (me when I watch the pimple-popping and loud chewing videos). Some feel nothing.
“If you don’t experience ASMR, and there’s no published research, I think it’s appropriate to be skeptical,” says Craig Richard, a professor and researcher at the Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy in Winchester, Virginia. He tells Washington Post, “I don’t know if I’d believe it if I didn’t experience it myself.”
Currently, there’s not much research to be found on the intricacies of ASMR, considering that it’s such a new subject. But Richard isn’t deterred. He founded a blog called ASMR University (though not exactly an educational institution, but more of a resource and news centre), which aims to help people learn more about the phenomenon of ASMR and inspire others to begin more in-depth research projects on ASMR, so that the world can know more about its social and biological aspects.
“Wow. Is ASMR really that popular?”
There are currently more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube, and the number continues to increase every day. Search “ASMR”, and you’ll see a never-ending list of verified accounts dedicated to the topic. In business, brands like McDonald’s Malaysia, Safeguard Philippines, Dove Chocolate and more are tapping into this newfound trend, basing their advertisements off the power of ASMR.
Take Michelob, for example, who featured its lower-calorie Ultra Pure Gold brew in a Super Bowl ad in early 2019, elevating the trend of ASMR from ‘seedy’ to ‘sensational’. In the video, Zoe Kravitz is seen lounging at a table on a lush island, while going through the motions of a typical ASMR video – whispering into left-and-right microphones, tapping her fingers on a glass bottle, swirling the bottle’s base on the table, and eventually pouring the golden brew into a tall glass and holding it to the microphone as it fizzes up. According to Azania Andrews, VP for Michelob Ultra, the hope for this ASMR-centric ad is for the 100-million-strong crowd, glued to the TV to watch the Super Bowl, to experience a strange sensation of disruptive quiet amidst the raucous cacophony of the game.
Furthermore, in a study conducted by ASMR University, 41% of respondents watch ASMR videos to fall asleep (hence the term, ‘sleep ASMR’ or ‘ASMR sleep’), and 59% watch to relax. Although it’s yet to be scientifically-proven, people who’ve had positive results with ASMR tend to feel much more at ease and less stressed after a good dose of video-watching, allowing them to drift into sleep easier.
The most popular types of ASMR
►Whispering & soft talking: often involving women whispering very slowly into your ears and making soothing noises ►Tapping & scratching: tabletop tapping and drumming, virtual head-scratching, massages, haircuts and the like ►Slime, foam, sand and soap: playing with slime, squeezing foam filled with glitter, cutting up kinetic sand, crunching up thinly-sliced soap ►Food & cooking: slicing vegetables, sounds of soups bubbling on the stove, using kitchen equipment ►Eating & mukbang: made popular by Koreans, pronounced chewing and slurping sounds ►Animal chewing: videos of pets eating things or chewing on snow, drinking water ►Body part-related: this is more of a movement-related ASMR where people move their hands/body in relaxing ways ►Nature-related: Rain, dripping water, rustling leaves, birds chirping, ambient sounds ►Stationery-related: flipping or tapping books, the sound of writing, paintbrushes, tearing paper ►People building or making things: sound-effect-only videos of DIY projects or building things outdoors
A booming industry: ASMR on YouTube
Thanks to YouTube, ASMR celebrities are now a thing. Each specializing in their own niche, these ASMR artists are known for their ability to give you the ‘tingles’ through your screen, and are making big money from their silent talents:
Watching Soo Bin eat is a spectacle in itself – from her guttural, almost-barbaric grunts and moans, to the way she tears meat right off the bone – her mukbang videos will make you wish you were right there next to her. Don’t be fooled by her comical eating habits; Soobin is also a skilled makeup artist and a great singer – her voice is as powerful as her appetite.
The world of slimes isn’t just for kids; it’s a legit adult playground too. With 1.8 million subs on her YouTube channel and 1.2 million followers on IG, Talisa is a 24-year-old slimer who’s made a name for herself playing with slimes. Her videos come with a bit of commentary, but let’s be honest – we’re all here for the slime ASMR.
In a world of fancy, heavily-edited cooking videos, Ryoya Takashima strips his tutorials down to basics, with no background music. All you do is watch him as he tinkers away in his kitchen, roasting veggies and slicing meat. Sure, it feels a bit voyeuristic, but somehow, the familiar sounds of cooking makes you feel at ease.
If Takashima-san takes it back to basics with his cooking, John Plant takes it waaaaaaaay back with his channel, where he mostly builds primitive stuff from scratch. Grass huts, bows and arrows, animal traps, chimneys, woven sandals… you name it, he’s done it. His videos are a hit with the gentlemen, who follow his videos religiously without even realizing that they’re ASMR.
A Russian YouTuber living in the US, Maria specializes in sleep ASMR like brush sounds, smoke-blowing, forehead massages (virtual, of course!), feather tickles and more. Considered as one of the pioneers of ASMR (this video is 7 years old, with new viewers still dropping by), she’s a pro at what she does, even showing her equipment in this insightful video.
Now this isn’t up everyone’s alley, but if you find twisted pleasure in watching Dr Sandra Lee release floodgates of pus and blackheads from a squirming patient’s face/back/other body part, we promise we won’t judge. After all, if she’s got her own show on TLC, there’s surely millions of others like you who love her pimple-popping ASMR!
You can be famous from making ASMR videos, but did you know, you can already be famous and then find yourself doing ASMR? Thanks to the great minds at W Magazine, there’s an entire series (two seasons, even!) of celebrities from the likes of Gal Gadot, Cardi B, Noah Centineo, Gigi Hadid and more trying their hand at the art of ASMR. It’s said that Cardi B herself is a huge fan; she watches ASMR videos every day – no wonder she’s such a natural.
If your kind of ASMR is more of a Bob Ross, painting-plus-commentary style, Terry Crews’ Christmas 2018 special will put the joy back in your life. That guy definitely has mean skills and an innate ability to make you feel so loved (in a fatherly way, of course). Last year, NBC’s YouTube page ran a 24-hour live stream loop of this video, so you could tune in anytime and watch the muscular Crews perch on a stool and sweep his paintbrush across a blank canvas, while enjoying the occasional crackle of yule logs from the fireplace.
Tips on how to enjoy ASMR like a pro
1. Know your jargon. The most basic words include ‘tingle’ (that numb, fuzzy feeling down your head and neck), ‘trigger’ (a stimuli that makes you feel the tingles), ‘mukbang’ (translates to ‘eating broadcast’ in Korean), ‘binaural microphone’ (the weird ear-shaped mike used in ASMR videos) and more.
2. Find what makes you tingle. The best thing about ASMR is that it’s personal. What gives you the tingles might not work for another, and vice versa. Take time to explore the bottomless library of ASMR resources on YouTube and you’ll find something that suits you – you might even discover a whole community who shares your interests!
3. Best enjoyed with headphones on. Some sounds can only be heard when you’re in total quiet. To enjoy ASMR at its best, noise-cancelling headphones (like this sweet pair of KEF Space Oneheadphones) deliver a true-to-sound experience. Very useful, especially for whispering sleep ASMR, which tends to have alternating left and right audio.
What will the future of ASMR bring?
Beyond the brain massages and tingles, ASMR seems like a promising trend that’s here to stay. A study has discovered that it provides physiological and stress-reducing benefits on par with mindful meditation, and it is also said to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
For what it’s worth, we’ve got our eye – ahem, we mean ear – on ASMR.
Cover Image: Michelob Ultra
Writer | Michelle Tan
Underneath her RBF, Michelle is actually a friendly raccoon. Loves collecting ugly things, changing her hair colour, and dinosaurs (not necessarily in that order).