UPDATE April 19, 2019 — “ASMR” stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. ASMR is a subtle tingling feeling that a person experiences when they watch certain videos or hear certain sounds. The ASMR physical sensation is akin to a shiver down your spine caused by someone lightly running their fingertips over your skin or whispering in your ear. “Triggers” are the name for audible or visual input that causes the physical ASMR reaction. Trigger sounds and visuals are soothing in nature, causing a zen feeling of relaxation.
The majority of fans are drawn to ASMR videos to feel the relaxing, sleep-inducing effects associated with ASMR triggers. This is evolving as ASMR popularity expands. People report watching ASMR videos to:
The most common reason for watching ASMR videos is to fall asleep—82% of participants from a 2015 study confirmed this fact. Insomniacs report that ASMR videos help lull them to sleep. ASMR is particularly helpful to chronic insomniacs who have unsuccessfully tried medical or behavioral fixes to improve their sleep health.
ASMR helps to alleviate stress and tension, and make the viewer feel relaxed, comfortable, and blissful. The calming effects of triggers are another commonly cited reason that people seek out ASMR videos on YouTube.
Treat Anxiety & Depression
For those suffering from clinical depression or anxiety, ASMR can provide a form of therapy to cope with symptoms from these difficult mental health conditions. Although there isn’t a scientific basis for these treatments, many ASMR viewers report that the videos help them relax, thereby alleviating mental health symptoms like negative emotions, mood swings, stress, and insomnia.
Many ASMR videos are formatted like a guided meditation. The sensory triggers help someone reach a deep meditative state through soothing music, affirmations, points of mental focus, and visualization exercises. Says David Kaplan of the American Counseling Association in Slate, “You can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time. Mindfulness techniques help you relax at the physical level, and that can help your emotional state.”
Provide Background Noise
The audio component of ASMR videos makes for perfect background noise, particularly for workers in open-plan offices. Similar to white noise machines, ambient sounds, podcasts, and background music, ASMR audio helps to drown out distracting noise, with the added benefit of pleasant tingles.
YouTube is the online destination for ASMR newbs to fall down a rabbit hole of tapping, tingling videos. As ASMR grows more mainstream, many people explore ASMR just to understand what all the fuss is about.
Find Brand Sponsorship Opportunities
As ASMRtists are increasingly part of the influencer marketing space, brands and marketers watch ASMR channels to find potential partners for sponsored videos. Brands related to mental health, meditation, therapy, and wellness are natural candidates to sponsor ASMR channels.
Practice Consent In A Safe Space
Although less common, trauma and assault survivors report that ASMR videos help simulate the experience of safe, explicit consent with another individual. Roleplay ASMR videos frequently involve the ASMR creator to ask the viewer to consent in a caring, non-threatening manner. For example, in a haircut roleplay video, the YouTuber might ask for your permission during each step of the process (i.e. “Mind if I wash your hair?’, “Is the temperature warm enough?”, “I’m going to cut your hair three inches, is that okay?”). Basically, the ASMRtist serves as a proxy to model a consensual human interaction, which can help the viewer cope with assault related PTSD.
On the fringe of ASMR viewers are those who seek sexual stimulation from ASMR videos. The vast majority of viewers do not derive any sexual feelings from ASMR and wholly reject the notion that ASMR is inherently sexual in any way. The sexualization of ASMR is very controversial, prompting ASMRtists and community members to voice their opinion on how to handle these misperceptions. A 2015 study found that only 5% of survey respondents reported using ASMR media for sexual stimulation, while 84% disagreed with the notion that ASMR can be sexual. The majority of content shared on the Not Safe For Work ASMR Subreddit (r/NSFWASMR) is explicitly pornographic, suggesting that ASMR has simply become an adult entertainment subgenre.
There’s no definitive scientific research that explains the ASMR phenomenon. It’s unknown why only some people are able to experience ASMR tingles, while others can’t. It’s theorized that humans are evolutionarily wired to feel comfort when being cared for by another person. ASMR is colloquially referred to as “head orgasms” (though, notably, ASMR is not inherently sexual in any way) or “brain tingles.” ASMR is much less commonly referred to as auditory-tactile synesthesia. Prior to 2010, people with ASMR felt tingles largely in isolation with no words to explain their tingles, but there was little discussion around the phenomenon.
“ASMR” Coined As A Term in 2010
Jennifer Allen coined the term ASMR in 2010. After years of experiencing ASMR tingles without having a name to attach to the strange sensation, Allen discovered fellow ASMRers on the internet. She soon launched Facebook-ASMR from which an online community blossomed, where people wanting to understand more about their ineffable experiences finally found a forum. As ASMR feelers found each other, they banded together with the ultimate goal of finding answers and spurring scientific research to better understand ASMR.
ASMR Online Community Blossoms
Upon the creation of an online community, ASMR has resonated with thousands of people as a form of human communication and connection. According to Google, “AMSR” appeared as a search term in 2011 and rose in popularity in 2013. Google flagged “ASMR” as a rising search trend in 2016 which coincides with ASMR hitting the critical mass of receiving more mainstream attention.
ASMR’s popularity is driven largely by “ASMRtists,” YouTube creators who make videos specifically designed to elicit tingly responses from viewers. In tandem with ASMR’s popularity, top YouTube influencers who specialize in ASMR have exploded in growth resulting in millions of views, thousands of subscribers, and a vibrant online community.
While there were occasional online videos that triggered ASMR in people, there were few channels and individuals that were explicitly devoted to ASMR as a genre. Even the “father” of ASMR, Bob Ross, did not intentionally seek to define the phenomenon in the 1980s. The first YouTube channel that specialized in whisper sounds, WhisperingLife, was only established in 2009.
With the help of Facebook and YouTube, ASMRtists have risen to fame. Triggered by videos of people doing simple, quiet, and calming tasks, ASMR is a natural fit for YouTube. YouTubers that are capitalizing in this mysterious physical sensation are becoming incredibly prominent, some touting over hundreds of thousands of followers.
As ASMR becomes a more widely acknowledged sensation, reports of individuals experiencing their own autonomous sensory meridian responses, commonly referred to as a “braingasm,” is increasing. Despite rising popularity, not everyone experiences ASMR in the same capacity or manner, making ASMR audiences especially niche.
Brands Showcase Sounds & Integrate Natively with ASMR Culture
ASMR channels are surprisingly versatile when it comes to partnering with brands on sponsored videos. ASMR creators use a wide array of different triggers to showcase brands in a new light. Recent ASMR brand activations that have worked well include:
Gibi ASMR Integrates Mobile Games and Cosplay
Mobile gaming brands are suited to ASMR YouTube partnerships because they can show gameplay while featuring sounds of tapping fingers on a mobile device and in-game music, beeps, clicks, and blips. In this activation between World of Warships and Gibi ASMR, Gibi dons a costume and gets into character to promote the game. Her mostly male audience on YouTube overlaps with World of Warships’ target consumer, which aided in the success of this campaign.
Gentle Whispering Whips Up Blue Apron Meals
Food ASMR is a big subcategory, which typically entails the creator either:
A meal-delivery brand like Blue Apron can integrate seamlessly with ASMR channels, as seen in this successful Gentle Whispering activation.
ASMR Darling, Taylor Darling, is an ASMRtist with over 2,300,000 subscribers on her channel. She creates video content with ear to ear whispers, affirmations, hair play/brushing, and microphone brushing. In this video, Taylor showcased a fashion haul sponsored by Whole Sale Buying.
Gibi is a rising star in the ASMR world—since launching her channel in 2016, she has gained over 1.8 million subscribers and more than 480 million video views. Gibi is known for her cosplay and roleplay ASMR videos, especially for fantasy franchises like Harry Potter or self-invented characters. In comparison to most ASMR creators, Gibi is very involved in the YouTube community through challenges, “How to be an ASMRtist” tutorials, and other content that’s not strictly ASMR-related.
Maria, creator behind the channel Gentle Whispering ASMR, has amassed over 602 million video views on her YouTube channel. She creates a variety of ASMR videos including trigger reels, metaphysical roleplays, unboxings, tutorials, and Russian language videos.
Sharon Dubois is a make-up artist and popular YouTube creator, boasting over 788,000 subscribers on her channel ASMR Glow. Sharon also has a growing following on Instagram and Twitch. She creates videos of many types including multilingual speaking videos, roleplays, and assorted trigger sounds.
Ally, the creator behind 502,000 subscriber channel ASMRrequests established in 2012, is one of the most followed ASMRtists on YouTube. She creates content on roleplay, brush-centered sounds, and show-and-tell topics using a whispering voice. In her YouTube bio, Ally explains that the name of her channel comes from “my personal goal to bring your ASMR dreams to life, as you all have done for me.”
In this video, Ally gives full disclosure at the beginning of the video that the content was sponsored by BetterHelp, an online therapy service. She tied in the video to World Mental Health Day to encourage her listeners to seek help if they struggle with their mental health.
Heather Feather is beloved ASMRtist, well-known within the ASMR community as a pioneer within the space. Heather established many popular sub-categories within the YouTUBE ASMR community, including immersive roleplays, creating her own characters, and the “sk” trigger sound, where the letters “S” and “K” are pronounced phonetically in different patterns. Although Heather has taken time off recently from posting content to take care of personal issues, Heather Feather remains a very influential figure within the world of ASMR with over 500,000 subscribers despite rarely posting new content.
Olivia Kissper has more than 322,000 YouTube followers, who relax to her roleplay and other trigger-filled ASMR videos. Originally from the Czech Republic, Olivia has a background studying psychology and teaching meditation. From her biography on YouTube: “I like to create videos for you with a touch of transpersonal aspect, where your minds can be bended and expanded while your body melts away in relaxation.”
Amal is known for her roleplay, shopping haul, and unboxing ASMR videos on her YouTube channel, which has over 194,000 subscribers. The videos reflect Amal’s personal interests including make-up, holiday decor, nail products, and hair accessories. Many of her videos feature Amal as a salesperson and some of the most popular videos feature Amal speaking with an Arabic accent.
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“Oddly satisfying” videos are all over Instagram and other social channels, sharing many similarities with ASMR videos. Videos of a person playing with slime, mixing up colored paint, or doing dainty watercolors have a soothing effect, similar to ASMR videos.
These “oddly satisfying” videos tend to be more object focused, while YouTube ASMR videos more people-focused, almost always featuring the YouTuber’s upper body and face front-and-center.
“Oddly satisfying” videos are more passive, encouraging the viewer to zone out. Oddly satisfying videos are akin to an audio visualizer: the visuals are deeply hypnotic and draw you in to keep watching. ASMR videos are usually more active, with the ASMRtists speaking to the camera, asking questions, and mimicking a two-person interaction (e.g. haircut, massage).
ASMR is a distinct sensation from frisson, which is the aesthetic chills sensation that some people experience when listening to music. Although similar to ASMR in that auditory stimulus provokes a sensory response in the body, frisson describes a person hearing music and feeling an emotional response to the music that causes goosebumps on the skin.