Ever felt a little tingle while watching a movie or television show? No, not that kind of tingle (get your minds out of the gutter!) – the kind you feel when you put your head on someone’s shoulder and they stroke your hair until you fall asleep.
As demanding boyfriends everywhere can attest, there’s nothing quite like that tingly feeling of relaxation, but the warm, fuzzy feeling in the back of your brain as you drift off into dreamland was a mostly unquantified experience for years until the term "ASMR" was coined in 2010 on a Facebook group for relaxation.
When people noticed that watching, hearing, and experiencing certain stimulants such as soft whispering, plastic-crinkling, hair-brushing, hand-waving, head-rubbing and scratching induced feelings of peace, tranquility and a "tingling" or "buzzing" sensation at the base of the neck and up into the brain, they sought to replicate this feeling by deliberately triggering it through sound and video.
Going back as far as 2008, online groups like the Society of Sensationalists on Yahoo noted that many members felt a relaxed, tingling sensation during certain types of stimulation, and they wished to discover the cause.
So, What Exactly Is ASMR?
While previous names for the experience included "brain massage," "brain tingles," and "brain orgasm," autonomous sensory meridian response (or ASMR) was the subsequent winner, due to members of the community being averse to any kind of sexual association with the experience.
Most proponents of ASMR use it to strictly to relax, not to arouse themselves or others. Jennifer Allen, leader of the original Facebook group and coiner of the phrase "autonomous sensory meridian response," said in an interview that she deliberately strung those words together in an attempt to find the most "clinical" and "objective" terms to describe what she felt was a spontaneous reaction to outside stimuli.
Is It About Sex, Though?
Many newcomers to the ASMR community, especially on YouTube, often wonder if there is a sexual element to it all. "Brain-gasm" is a common colloquial phrase used to describe the tingling sensation felt when triggered, and online ASMR videos often feature attractive young women eating, whispering, brushing hair or applying makeup – all things that can be considered sexually arousing.
But, on the flip side, attractive young women doing just about anything tends to garner certain types of attention on the internet, and most ASMRtists (as they’re called) insist that the noise of these soft sounds combined with the repeated motion of a hairbrush or make-up applicator isn’t meant to encourage erotic stimulation, but rather trigger the "tingles" (AKA the relaxation response).
How Legit Is This Thing?
While there is little research on ASMR, some also believe that there is a subconscious element to the relaxation felt, as the stimulus often harkens back to the safe, peaceful memories of childhood when you opened crinkly presents on Christmas morning, or when a parent or sibling brushed your hair, told you stories and tucked you into bed.
As such, roleplaying these actions is also a robust aspect of the ASMR community, and the trend is catching on: role-play videos featuring an overnight stay at a clinic for migraines or insomnia are by far the most common, as ASMR is so often used to combat those conditions.
ASMR also has a very active subreddit describing the best "trigger," tingles and role-players, while it is also big business on YouTube, with a dedicated community and the channels of top ASMRtists like Karuna Satori, ASMR Darling, Olivia’s Kissper, Whisper’s Red and GentleWhispering amassing hundreds of thousands of subscribers and view counts in the multi-millions.
OK, Who Should I Be Following?
In an increasingly fast-paced and hectic world, ASMR functions as a sort of guided meditation for those trying to unwind, and regardless of your taste, there is something for everyone.
Olivia’s Kissper, who has over a quarter of a million subscribers and almost 70 million views, primarily focuses on haircuts, doctor’s visits and voiceover videos featuring positive spoken affirmations over three-dimensional images.
Whisper’s Red, an ASMRtist from Northern United Kingdom who speaks with a heavy accent, is best known for her long videos combing and brushing her thick red hair along with the hair of her friends and family members.
Karuna Satori, pale and covered in tattoos, specializes in "bitchy" role-plays featuring frenemies, horrible bosses and rude family members, along with polar opposite scenarios involving a caring close friend console you after a breakup or bad day.
ASMR Darling’s channel, which amassed over 600,000 subscribers and 80 million views in under three years, runs the gamut from role-plays to hair brushing videos and more: her top videos, none of which have under a million views, feature her simulating a scalp massage, role-playing a cranial nerve examination, brushing her microphone with make-up brushes and trying on clothes during a fashion haul.
And GentleWhispering is known along with another ASMRtist, Heather Feather, for having two of the oldest, largest and well-known channels on the site: Heather Feather was one of the first wave of ASRMtists on YouTube, starting her channel in 2012, and GentleWhispering is approaching a whopping one million subscribers.
Heather Feather was also one of the first ASMRtists to be recognized by receiving a verified check mark on YouTube, labeling her as bonafide YouTube star and helping to solidify and legitimize the presence of ASMR on the video sharing website. Many ASMRtists now boast checkmarks on their pages.
ASMR's Problem With Diversity
One common complaint lodged against the ASMR community has been that it is overwhelmingly white and female (every ASMRtist previously named, and the majority of the top ASMRtists on YouTube, fall into this demographic).
However, Fairy Char ASMR is a popular woman of color (WOC) ASMRtist who actually beat Heather Feather to YouTube by three years, and there are many up-and-coming ASMR channels ran by WOC, including Peace and Saraity, MagicalWhispers, Whisper Latina ASMR, LatreceASMR, India Love and the popular Pigsbum53.
So the next time you have trouble sleeping or find yourself unable to unwind, give ASMR a shot! You just might trigger your tingles.
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