As a kid, I used to always ask my friends and family to draw patterns on my back or arms with their fingers, or play with my hair. I think a lot of you can agree that the sensation of having someone trace lines on you, touch your hair, do your makeup, or give you a massage is super relaxing. If you’re like me, you look forward to going to the hairdresser because these sensations cause a feeling that can best be described as “tingly”, mainly experienced in the scalp and down the spine. This “tingly” experience actually has a name. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of actual scientific research about ASMR, and although it seems to be an incredibly common phenomenon, I can’t give any statistics as to how many people experience it. Nor do I have any substantial explanation as to what it is, why it happens, what part of the brain it affects, and what the affects are on health or psychology. Keep in mind that from a scientific viewpoint, all we really know is “thing feels good” and has intellectuals going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (want to know more about the science side of things? Here’s all I could find 1 | 2)
But as a person who does experience this weird feeling, who has talked to other people who do, I’d like to give a bit of an understanding to it. After all, just because we don’t have much research doesn’t mean that you can’t feel it.
So here we go: ASMR.
So I’ve already talked about my experience as a kid, asking my friends to draw on my back so I could feel that cool tingly feeling. This is referred to as a trigger, a “tactile stimuli”, which just means that there was the physical sensation of being touched. There are two other types of triggers, visual and auditory. Visual can include things like watching someone draw or paint (think Bob Ross) and watching slow hand movements. Auditory can be things like the sound of someone speaking softly or whispering, or even sounds like tapping, crinkling or writing on paper.
All of these different triggers, by themselves or combined, can create the tingly feeling that is usually felt in the scalp and neck, spreading down the spine and sometimes in the limbs. Cool hey? The second response to the triggers is a feeling of relaxation, sleepiness, and all around pleasant wellbeing. A lot of people claim that ASMR helps when they’re suffering from insomnia, depression or anxiety attacks. Like I said, it isn’t known if it actually creates any reactions in the brain (for example: producing more melatonin and helping people fall asleep) and you should never use something like this in place of consulting a doctor or psychologist. I can not stress this enough, if you think you may have a health condition or you’re having any psychological problems, ASMR will not replace counselling or medication. (That being said, watching an ASMR video because you can’t sleep won’t kill you. Just remember to take your meds too dude).
“So we know what the triggers are, and we know what they do. But Jess, what is your secret YouTube obsession?”
Here’s where it all ties together. There is an entire community on YouTube of people who make videos with the purpose of inducing ASMR, and people who watch them to feel that tingly thing. According to the subscriptions of one of the most popular channels, this community contains more than 860,000 people. I must confess, I am one of these people.
A few years ago, I found myself on YouTube every night when I couldn’t sleep. I started off watching instructional makeup and drawing videos, and I noticed that it always made me super sleepy and gave me the same feeling from when I was a kid. My favourite channels were KlairedelysArt, who has a nice gentle voice that made me feel relaxed while watching her create a variety of natural to theatrical makeup looks, and MarkCrilley (click the link – it’s awesome). Through the magic of YouTube, I ended up watching instructional massage videos. I thought “hey, that’s actually a cool skill to have” (flash forward to current me and I’ve just started my Diploma in Beauty Therapy. Yeah past me, massage is a cool skill to have) and ended up obsessed with a channel called PsycheTruth (anyone else get flashbacks of Lisa Simpson doing yoga? Just me?)
So PsycheTruth led me to good old Athena Jezik, and I think I watched every single one of her videos. One day, I noticed the weird letters in the title of one video:”ASMR”. From there it was just one google search to discover that 1. There was a name for that awesome feeling I was seeking out and 2. There was an underground community and videos dedicated to the sensation.
A common question I’ve found people asking the ASMR community is both hilarious and annoying. “Is it porn?” First of all, yikes. Second of all, let me have one nice thing without sexualising it. Please. Maybe some people within the community connect it to porn, but I legitimately don’t care enough about these people to look into it. So no, it shouldn’t be considered as porn.
I consider ASMR to be three things. As someone who experiences it, ASMR is a uniquely relaxing sensation that I do really enjoy. As someone who’s really interested in psychology, I’m interested in the how’s and why’s of ASMR, and I have my own questions. Is ASMR connected to synaesthesia? Are you more likely to experience ASMR if you have anxiety, depression, autism, BPD, OCD, or any other psychological or behavioural disorders/conditions? And as someone who wants to enter the beauty therapy industry, I’m interested in finding the connection between ASMR and beauty therapy. After all, things like manicures, facial treatments, massages or makeup application can trigger it, and many YouTube videos are dedicated to acting out these situations (for example, a haircut “role play” where the content creator talks to the camera as if they’re a hairdresser and the the audience is really there getting their haircut). I’ve heard of real life Spa’s creating treatments inspired by ASMR, just like the Lush Spa has a treatment inspired by synaesthesia. Will these just stay a rarity and a cyber experience through video, or will it become a more recognised experience that is incorporated into the industry?
At the end of the day you’re one of four people. Either you’ve never experienced ASMR and you think it’s weird, and you want to comment making fun of me. Go ahead, I’ll get back to you in 12-15 business days. Maybe you have experienced it but don’t consider yourself a part of the community (or you’ve never heard of it until right now). Maybe you do experience it and you spend your spare time searching for new content. And maybe you’ve never felt it and never will, but you just learned something new and think it’s pretty neat. Either way, if you’re using YouTube videos to relax, to watch funny cats, or to learn skills from tutorials, we can all agree on one thing. The comment section is a dangerous place. Avoid the YouTube comment section at all costs.