ASMR: A Journey of the Senses

By: Sophia Bunker

Crouched before the customers a woman crouches holding a burning flame in a glass jar. She sits and quietly taps on its sides of the container and blows lightly on the drop of light within. The illumination dances. The first stage of the session, that candle contemplation, has begun. Inside this “unofficial” location of her apartment, you sit down gazing at the beautiful day from the windows of the Whisperlodge. You are brought to a state of total peace. The warm beams of the California sun engulf everything the light touches. As you center inside yourself you begin to escape. You have embarked on a journey of the senses known to many as ASMR. While calming scents dance through the air, a worker sitting behind you wearing white lightly glides soft brushes of different sizes and shapes up and down your back, neck, and shoulders in a session with individual, personal attention. They whisper into your ear, enhancing the sensations of ASMR. You feel each bristle dust away the stress you’ve built up over long days and nights. Every speck of anxiety that had burrowed in your pores is whisked away. You have embarked on your experience at the Whisperlodge.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. Chances are, you are already familiar with this term. It is a term that will be mentioned a lot throughout the course of this paper. This is a response which is triggered by different sounds, and touches. Every person is triggered by something different. For example, your friend may simply hate the sound of the crinkling paper emanating through your computer speakers while you absorb the chills commanded by that sound. When ASMR is experienced, it is often described as a tingling or staticky sensation. The feeling extends along your body, felt from the head, down through the back, and even to the toes. It isn’t felt to the same extent by everyone, but most can acknowledge some sort of sense of it. ASMR can be felt by many, while some may never feel the experience described. It is different for everyone. To enhance the chances of having a successful ASMR journey, be in a relaxed state. In bed getting ready to sleep, in your favorite chair, on the floor in a quiet space, on a long bus ride, with your pet etc. Close your eyes and listen to all the different sounds and allow the sensation to engulf you. I personally do not enjoy ASMR. I find that it’s just a bit out of my realm of comfort. While this is true, I have found myself touched by these senses before as a result of these videos. I listened to a plethora on YouTube as a means of research for myself, as well as a result of my curiosity. While I have stumbled upon these types of videos before creating this paper due to instagram’s explore page, and youtube’s recommended content, I never took it seriously. ASMR is a scientifically proven dialogue between your body and the strange sounds that trigger it. With that in mind, I tried out listening to ASMR as I went to bed. I can say, oddly enough, it did ease my state and urge me to sleep. It isn’t such a surprise to me. I love the sound of rain as I head to bed. Or the sound of the wind outside my window, the rolling waves of the ocean. All of these sounds aren’t so different if you don’t look at what’s happening on the screen. The odd visual of someone tapping a bunch of random things facing away from my line of sight, the sound almost does resembles rain.

When I type “ASMR videos” into the browser, I am greeted by millions of videos which all claim to be catalysts of the ASMR sensation. I began discovering many different sorts of videos. They varied from the typical and more pleasant scratching and tapping on a microphone to the slightly weirder hair brushing in front of a microphone, to the more “disturbing” interpretations which include role playing, eating, and “personal attention.” The more disturbing ones seem to turn this scientific form of simple pleasure into a fetishized and sexualized experience. Crossing the line between pleasant, and inappropriate.

On YouTube, ASMR videos have gained incredible popularity. Creators of this content make millions of dollars from their endlessly growing views, subscriber count, and monetization. It’s a major trend that many people like to take part in in different ways, whether it be creating the content, watching it, or sharing it. As it’s gained popularity, its become a much different experience. It seems as though people try so hard to do unique and different things to gain views, that it ends up taking away from the actual scientific and mental sensations that people have come to enjoy.

Most people believe that ASMR is just popular among young adults and teens on YouTube making slime with elmer’s glue or tapping the screen of their iPhone with fake nails. In actuality, this strange trend is growing among adults. Wealthy adults, at that. Sessions at the Whisperlodge start at $120.00 at least for general admission. The Whisperlodge has made appearances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. They have set their sights abroad in hope of reaching more audiences.

This trend goes back fairly far. While this sensation due to certain sounds and triggers likely goes back to the beginning of time, it has only recently been given a name and research to back it up. It has grown incredibly in recent years due to social media (specifically instagram and YouTube). The contemporary history of this trend traces back to October 2007. A 21 year old user on a forum explained specific sensations they’ve felt since childhood. From there it has gained momentum and brought us to today.

This trend exists in order to bring satisfaction and entertainment to audiences. It is meant to relax and ease the minds of watchers, listeners and creators.

Criticisms of this trend are vast. Most people think that it’s strange. In all fairness, videos can go to very bizarre and uncomfortable places as touched on earlier in the paper, competition for views has become more of a focus then the original intent of the videos for audiences. It’s now a competition rather than an exploration or journey. For example, people have started eating on camera. This includes chomping on a head of lettuce, lots of fast food, ice, gum etc.

In my opinion, this trend is growing rapidly. I’m not quite sure how much farther it could possibly go on social media. There are already ASMR videos consisting of almost anything you can think of. In the real world it has gone decently far, and has massive potential to journey farther. The Whisperlodge is a great example of this. People have begun investing lots of money and time in this concept. While the Whisperlodge is only a pop up right now, being conducted out of an apartment, but I believe that one day it could find a permanent location and grow to become very successful.

As your 90 minute session ends, you are pleased with the time you’ve just concluded. The sun rays of Los Angeles beat down through the window you’re still facing and beckons you to rise as you open your eyes. At ease you thank the leaders of your session as you depart.

Bibliography

ASMR videos. What are they? How do they work? This growing trend has intrigued millions across a spectrum of ages, sexes, and races. The growth in popularity largely has YouTube to thank. Hundreds of channels are dedicated to spreading “brain orgasms” to all who watch. Sounds of tapping, whispering, eating, scratching, breaking, page turning etc are believed to lull the brain into a state of complete pleasure. So, is it true? What’s the science behind these seemingly simple videos? The cult following of this trend will tell you that these videos work, and immensely enjoy this strange form of meditation.

“ASMR Triggers — Common ASMR Triggers That Cause Tingles.” The ASMR Lab, www.asmrlab.com/common-asmr-triggers/.

This article is a list of “ASMR triggers.” Whispering, blowing, and personal attention are just a few examples. Each of these ‘triggers’ are said to contribute satisfaction and comfort to the senses.

Etchells, Pete. “ASMR and ‘Head Orgasms’: What’s the Science behind It? | Pete Etchells.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Jan. 2016, www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2016/jan/08/asmr-and-head-orgasms-whats-the-science-behind-it.

This article written by Etchells covers the scientific evidence supporting ASMR. He explores the neurological effects of ASMR and how it causes ‘head orgasms.’

Castillo, Michelle. “These People Make a Living with Bizarre Repetitive YouTube Videos That Give Users ‘Pins and Needles’.” Https://Www.cnbc.com, www.cnbc.com/2017/02/17/youtube-asmr-videos-what-are.html.

This article by Castillo shares the creative side behind these videos. Successful Youtubers are able to make a living off of these bizarre recordings of themselves making strange sounds and performing awkward actions.

“History of ASMR.” ASMR University, 13 Nov. 2017, asmruniversity.com/history-of-asmr/.

The history of ASMR is very interesting to follow. According to ten article the ASMR conversation really began in 2007.

Lloyd, James V., et al. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: What Is It? and Why Should We Care?” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385758/.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is what most people know as ASMR. Lloyd dives into what exactly it is, how it can be used, and how it even works. The unfortunate fact is that there aren’t many research explorations on the topic.

Lopez, German. “ASMR, Explained: Why Millions of People Are Watching YouTube Videos of Someone Whispering.” Vox.com, www.vox.com/2015/7/15/8965393/asmr-video-youtube-autonomous-sensory-meridian-response.

Lopez’s article is about what makes these ASMR videos so intriguing. It explores the draw people feel when watching these videos. A video of someone whispering is not something most people would expect to go viral, so they help explore why.

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Sophia Bunker

Sophia Bunker

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