Delightful Audibles: A Quick Look at ASMR

A quick look at ASMR, from what it is, whether everybody “gets” it, why it has become such a huge trend and more.

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While browsing through YouTube, Instagram or just about any online platform that allows video sharing, you’re likely to stumble on a whole bunch of videos with “ASMR” in the title. The actual content of these videos can vary widely, from a lady whispering into a microphone for five minutes, somebody carving a block of soap, a man getting a haircut and even a fluffy white Samoyed trying various snacks.

The history of ASMR, the rise in ASMR videos and how it can sometimes get really, really weird is undoubtedly a very intriguing story; for now, however, we’ll focus on what it is and how it might affect you. Or not.

First up, the definition. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and is sometimes called “brain tingle,” “brain massage,” “brain orgasm” or “braingasm” and “whisper porn”—although no, it’s not usually sexual in nature. The term describes a sensory phenomenon usually described as a pleasant (sometimes the word “euphoric” is used) tingling or static-like sensation that begins in the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and the upper spine, sometimes even all the way to the arms and legs.

This sensation can be triggered by certain audio and/or visual triggers, and here’s where it gets really interesting. The most common triggers are soft whispery voices, repetitive sounds of mundane everyday tasks like somebody leaving through a book, nails tapping on hard surfaces as well as various sounds usually associated with eating, such as slurping or chewing.

You might also hear the term “role play” being used in connection with ASMR triggers, as apparently, the sensation can also pop up when somebody receives personal attention such as having their hair trimmed or back massaged while being gently spoken or whispered to. While physical touch component certainly plays a part, the vocal element is more than enough—hence the abundance of role play ASMR videos.

“For those who can experience ASMR … the sensation can range from mildly pleasant to orgasmic. More commonly, it is blissful and therapeutic.”

Speaking of which, ASMR videos have also made heavy use of binaural recording. Put simply, this method uses two microphones arranged in a way to create a 3D stereo sound effect that would allow listeners to feel as if they were in close proximity to the speaker. If you see an ASMR YouTuber display a mic that look like two upright discs placed on the two ends of a small box or tube—sometimes complete with sculpted ears—you’re listening to a binaural recording. These, by the way, are best listened to using headphones instead of speakers, much like binaural beats … but that’s a story for another day.

Now, there are two major points about ASMR that needs to be addressed before we continue. First, the science behind it isn’t clear yet. See, ASMR as we define it today only came to public attention in around 2007. There has been a number of studies and peer-reviewed articles done on the subject, but there is no definite scientific basis for what ASMR as yet, including what it actually is, how it works, what its range of effects are and so on. Even the term itself was not coined by an actual scientist.

Second, not everyone experiences ASMR. There have been various hypotheses about why some people are susceptible while others are not, but, again, the science is still out on that one. So, how would you go about discovering whether ASMR is something that affects you? Many people find it by accident from day-to-day experiences, sometimes stumbling upon “unintentional” ASMR videos that contain triggers. Of course, today, the easiest way would be to browse through popular ASMR videos on YouTube and see if anything causes a tingling sensation. And this brings us to our final point of discussion: Why would anyone want to experience ASMR? What good does it do?

Well, for one, some people—even those not susceptible to ASMR—may find some ASMR videos simply enjoyable to watch. It’s basically the same thing that drives people to watch, say, cat videos. For those who can experience ASMR, however, the sensation can range from mildly pleasant to orgasmic. More commonly, it is blissful and therapeutic, which is why ASMR videos are often used to help people relax, especially before bedtime. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that ASMR can help overcome insomnia and ease the symptoms of depression or chronic pain.

It can be argued that those potential benefits alone make looking into ASMR worthwhile. And while we wait for the world’s scientists to uncover the workings behind the phenomenon, why not spend a couple of minutes watching people unwrap biscuits and eat them?