If you type ASMR into YouTube, you will find a plethora of videos that can strike people as quite odd. Strangers whispering into the camera for long periods of time, a woman tapping on a chocolate bar for nearly an hour, or producing sounds from slime or lotion are some examples. The name stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response,” though that mostly is just a name that was put together so that the little-known sensation could have a name (the history of the term is briefly discussed here).
Many who use the videos say that they have had an incredibly positive impact on their lives by reducing stress, anxiety and causing sleep. Most ASMR enthusiasts believe that capacity to feel the ASMR sensation is something you either are or are not born with. The ASMR sensation itself is often described as a pleasant tingling sensation in the head that can spread down the body. Many viewers though say they don’t understand the attraction. Some people react to the ASMR craze with a disdain either because the videos are deemed to be simply weird or are deemed to be a kind of fetish.
Situations in ASMR videos can include haircuts, doctor’s visits or android repairs-situations where someone is allowed to act in close proximity to another person (or robot). It is this aspect of many ASMR videos that can creep people out. The charge of that the videos are intended to be sexual deeply angers ASMR creators though since they do not wish do be viewed in that light and, furthermore, should public opinion turn too sharply against ASMR videos, demonetization will become a bigger threat for ASMR YouTubers than it already is. Interestingly, one survey of ASMR enthusiasts found only 5% reported interest in the videos for sexual stimulation.
But is ASMR real? According to research done by the University of Sheffield, it is, but only in some people. Participants who reported that they experienced the ASMR feeling were shown to have lower heart rates when exposed to ASMR content in a lab.
“What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness,” Dr. Giulia Poerio who lead the study.
As it is though, very little is understood as to what causes people to love videos depicting such simple stimuli so much. Some compare the phenomenon to synesthesia while another hypothesis links the videos to the way we receive affection while young. Whether you love the trend, or are repelled by it, it seems the brain still has some more quirks we are yet to learn.
And who knows what the Internet will produce next.