What is ASMR? The History of ASMR
What is ASMR? ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is oftentimes described as a “phenomenon” where people feel tingles in their scalp. This occurs upon hearing soft sounds or other “triggers” (e.g. scratching, whispering, personal attention, etc.)
When Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting aired, people didn’t know what to call this “tingly sensation.” They knew that Ross’ show put them to sleep and made them feel peaceful, relaxed. No one understood why. Why did Mr. Ross’ soft, gentle brush strokes help people fall asleep throughout the late-80s and 90s?
I didn’t understand why I felt this interesting tingly sensation either. I didn’t understand why I fell into a deep, peaceful slumber after stumbling across one of AppreciateASMR’s videos. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was watching at all. Without headphones, I couldn’t hear her either. But with headphones on, I felt the tingly sensation and the rest is history.
The Science Behind ASMR
This “whispering phenomenon” is still a mystery to the scientific world. Recently, people have made efforts to publish documentaries and studies around the phenomenon. None have yielded conclusive results. Since I’ve been a part of the community, the Wikipedia page on it has grown and expanded. Still wondering what ASMR is?
People have published articles in scientific journals sharing their findings. Only one thing remains: “there are no scientific data nor any clinic trials from which to deduce evidence that might support or refute any clinical benefits or dangers of ASMR, with claims to therapeutic efficacy remaining based on voluminous personal anecdotal accounts by those who attribute the positive effect on anxiety, depression, and insomnia to ASMR video media” (Wikipedia).
There are some things that we do know for certain though. For example, that people feel relaxed after experiencing ASMR and feel a tingly sensation. Not everyone experiences ASMR, though. Why not? We’re not sure yet.
The Guardian wrote an article about these “head orgasms.” It attempted to find science-backed answers to these questions. They interviewed graduate student Emma Barratt and lecturer Nick Davis from Swansea University asked some of the popular questions that ASMR raises through a survey for 500 ASMR enthusiasts. Here are some that instantly come to mind:
Is ASMR sexual?
- “Only 5% of participants reported that they used ASMR media for sexual stimulation, which is counter to a common perception of the videos found online. ‘There are a lot of people who latch onto some videos involving attractive women and dismiss what we found to be a very nuanced activity as exclusively sexual. Our findings will hopefully dispel that idea,’ explains Barratt. ‘The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person,’ adds Davis.”
Why is ASMR popular all of a sudden?
- Barrat concludes that since a substantial amount of people did not experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, it was overlooked.
Does ASMR help with depression, anxiety and insomnia?
- “…Their data showed that, for people who scored as having moderate to severe depression, 69% reported using ASMR videos to help ease their symptoms, and generally reported a greater improvement in mood than individuals who were not depressed. But these are self-report measures, and further work needs to be done to pinpoint to what extent there may be an actual therapeutic effect.”
Misconceptions of ASMR
I’ve expressed my horrendous experience in real life about my “whispering channel.” I have a video where I talk about how my classmates at my university and people in my personal life reacted to my videos. To paraphrase, people were disgusted by me and my videos and I was judged and ridiculed because of it. My peers saw it as porn and unusual. They thought my videos were sexual and weird. They didn’t get it.
Maria, or GentleWhispering, explained in an article that while some people may perceive ASMR as sexual, most ASMRtists do not create their content with that intent. She described the phenomenon as “sensual” because it is a close, personal experience. I always liked that description – she hit the nail on the head!
Despite consistent efforts of popular ASMRtists to reduce the sexual connotation of the phenomenon, a subcategory has bloomed known as “erotic ASMR.” I think that says more about our society more so than it does about the phenomenon itself. People sexualize everything these days.
The community on YouTube is growing tremendously. There are new trends from Rude ASMR Roleplays to ear-eating and everything in between! I’ve been lucky to witness its growth over the years and the exposure the community has gotten. Although it is oftentimes misunderstood and misconceived, I have thousands of emails, comments and messages from people who will tell you: