Image via YouTube (GentleWhisperings).
To outsiders, they’re just everyday sounds – a gentle whisper, a quick brush stroke or a mindless tap, but for those who experience Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, it’s so much more.
Referred to as ASMR, the term is used to describe that relaxing tingly feeling you get that starts at the back of your neck and scalp and can quickly spread throughout the rest of your body.
It might sound bizarre but it’s a phenomenon that has a cult following: The ASMR reddit thread has over 100,000 subscribers and the largest Facebook group has almost 10,000 members.
But the mecca of ASMR obsession can be found on YouTube, with some of the most popular videos recording over 10 million views.
In one of the few studies done on ASMR, psychologists Emma Barratt and Nick Davies from Swansea University looked into the online preferences of ASMR users.
“The advent of online video communities has facilitated a gathering of those who experience ASMR, and as a result hundreds of videos have been produced, viewed and shared with the goal of inducing this sensation, which is said to be paired with a feeling of intense relaxation,” say the researchers.
They found that while the majority of people use the videos for relaxation, around five percent admitted to using them for sexual stimulation (known as ASMRotica), which has proven to be a controversial divide amongst ASMR communities.(Post continues after video.)
“This is so relaxing and awesome. Thanks so much! Only problem is I feel like I’m cheating on my girlfriend,” says one viewer on ASMR YouTube star GentleWhispering’s video “Made just for you… ASMR 3D sound”.
“You’re so hot and relaxing,” and, “Stimulates me to the point where I am immobilised,” read others.
While some argue “getting off” isn’t the point of ASMR, others believe it’s perfectly natural.
“It’s fine if you’re aroused by this – some people are – and that’s normal. Some people get standofish about mentioning sexual thoughts about this but it’s not exactly uncommon. The first and foremost purpose however is relaxation,” writes YouTube user Kira Turner.
Some of the YouTube "stars" of the ASMR world, GentleWhispering and CosmicTingles, have revealed that they create their videos by catering to common "triggers".
The woman behind GentleWhispering, Maria, told Vice that she thinks ASMR has to do with childhood, which is when most people experience it for the first time.
“Whenever your mother would treat you delicately, or your doctor or teacher would talk to you gently… The caring touch is the biggest trigger," she said.
The only problem? There has been little to no scientific research into the condition, with even the admittedly official sounding name a phrase coined by the internet and its ASMR-identifiers. "Braingasm" is another commonly used term. The few studies that do exist have struggled to find a cause, but have suggested some potential links to synthaesthesia. (Post continues after gallery.)
According to ASMR Lab, those who experience the sensation claim that, as well as as being an uncontrollable reaction, ASMR has a number of other benefits similar to mediation, including an ability to reduce stress levels and aid concentration.
Once triggers have been identified, those sounds can they be played to make the sensation happen on purpose as a form of relaxation.
Others who suffer from insomnia say that ASMR videos are the only thing that works in relaxing them and sending them to sleep.
Despite the lack of solid research, it's clear that it's a sensory experience many people can identify with. And while it's always best to consult a medical professional if you're having serious problems, if it helps anyone stress less, relax and get more sleep in the meantime, then it can only be a good thing.
Do you have ASMR?