Designed by: Leanne Soh Li-En (21-E6)
A pretty lady moves her hands slowly and whispers into both your ears, perhaps simultaneously crumpling paper or clacking her nails on a keyboard. Although this scene may seem strange to some, many others are captivated by and find solace in this: a typical ASMR video.
Started in 2010, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and is defined as a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation, as experienced by some people in response to a specific gentle stimulus, often a particular sound. The trend took off on YouTube in 2013 and there are currently a whopping 13 million videos providing people with ASMR-eliciting sounds to date. What is ASMR, actually? Why do people listen to these sounds anyway? How did the ASMR community expand so fast?
ASMR audio is more than just gentle tapping in rhythm, contrary to what most who do not watch ASMR videos believe. These stimulating sounds can also include mouth sounds such as licking and lip smacking as well as the crumpling of plastic wraps. Besides that, there are roleplaying videos, where the creator acts out a scenario with the listener, such as in boyfriend roleplay. In short, the range of videos triggering these tingles is vast and there is a variety of content to cater to different people’s needs.
So how does ASMR actually work? Well, ASMR usually invokes tingles in listeners that start at the scalp area. Gradually, as they continue listening, the tingling sensations may spread to the rest of the body, including their neck, spine and other sensitive areas. These help create an overall calming and happy feeling that many listeners enjoy.
However, many find these videos to be cringe-inducing, strange or even disgusting. A case in point is the trigger of mouth sounds whereby creators, or ‘ASMRtists’ as they have coined themselves, can be seen licking microphones that mimic human ears. It is understandable that such an act can be seen as inappropriate and sometimes they truly are. It must be noted though, that such videos are exceptions, and the majority of ASMR videos are made with the simple motive of bringing relaxation to the bunch of people who seek comfort in hearing such sounds.
So why is it still so popular with so many, to the point of being needed? The biggest reason is because ASMR can help people to calm down and relax. Notable features of ASMR videos include their quietness as well as the intimacy that they create, which makes so many people enjoy listening to them to unwind and destress after a long day. Some ASMR videos are actually specifically made to help people sleep, revealing their effectiveness in helping people relieve the stresses and anxiety built up throughout the day.
The intimacy created by the ASMRtists also leads to another reason that people listen to them: companionship. Specifically, romantic companionship. Many ASMRtists do “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” roleplays in their ASMR videos, and these often include taking care of the listener while they’re sick, or helping to calm them down before a stressful event. These provide a sense of intimacy and can even simulate an event in a real relationship, helping to ease the loneliness that many listeners may feel in their own lives. After all, who doesn’t like receiving personal attention and being carefully taken care of?
So, it makes sense that some people enjoy listening to ASMR videos. But these videos, as helpful as they may be to some, seem catered to a very specific portion of online users and would therefore probably be very niche under normal circumstances. So why are they exploding in popularity now?
One of the reasons is skyrocketing stress levels. Across the globe, students and workers are facing (among other things) astronomical amounts of stress. Their fast-paced lives don’t really allow them to indulge in their hobbies or take frequent vacations for some good ol’ TLC, so these overworked, over-stressed people have begun turning to other sources for relaxation and calming of frazzled nerves. One of these sources is ASMR. In addition to the emotional and psychological benefits we’ve examined above, ASMR can also provide physical comfort through the tingling sensations that it triggers, which can help listeners to relax. It’s also a good solution to nightly insomnia caused by stress, aiding many to get their much needed sleep instead of tossing and turning the entire night.
Another reason is the global community it’s been able to foster. Before ASMR came onto the scene, many online users were already discovering the tingling sensations that they felt upon coming into contact with different triggers. Confusion and curiosity naturally led them to scour the ever-developing and advancing internet for answers, through which they discovered people who felt similar sensations, leading to the rise of ASMR and the formation of the community behind it. On Reddit, 130,000 ASMR enthusiasts are part of the r/asmr reddit community, showing just how strong and connected these people have become thanks to ASMR.
So the next time you stumble upon an ASMR video and feel those tingling sensations start to creep across your body, know that there is a good reason for that, and that there are many around the world who share those sensations. If you’re feeling adventurous and have got time on your hands, maybe pick up a microphone, and start whispering into it. Who knows, you might become the next biggest ASMRtist.
- Lopez, G. (2015, July 15). ASMR, explained: Why millions of people are watching YouTube videos of someone whispering. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2015/7/15/8965393/asmr-video-youtube-autonomous-sensory-meridian-response.
- ASMR: Defintion, the Science, & examples. Sleep.org. (2021, April 8). https://www.sleep.org/what-is-asmr/.