ASMR: YouTube’s tingling sensation

By WILLIAM ARNOTT

Have you ever had tingles run through your spine after hearing someone’s voice? Maybe it was from when your hair was being brushed or from listening to a certain piece of music?

That feeling is called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, and millions of people are tuning into YouTube channels dedicated to it.

The people making these videos call themselves ASMRtists and they make certain sounds to trigger the tingle response. It could be tapping on pieces of wood, whispering closely into a microphone or crinkling plastic packaging.

It’s a strange concept which sounds absurd, but for those who enjoy it, it can trigger a euphoric sensation and help them relax.

If you want to experience it for yourself, try listening to the video below. You’ll need to put on a pair of headphones, as a significant part of ASMR depends on sounds moving from ear to ear.

Don’t worry if you weren’t able to feel it, you’re not alone. ASMR affects people individually and some people just can’t feel it.

The ASMR community have a wide range of videos to help people find their tingles. A popular type of video involves roleplaying a character or scenario. These could be simple haircuts or eye exams, to downright surreal experiences with Cthulhu-inspired monsters.

Some ASMRtists go above and beyond with the costuming.

Dmitri Smith is an Australian ASMRtist who runs a channel called MassageASMR. He started making his own videos four years ago and has since racked up over 200 million views.

He believes that ASMR is a mechanism for the body to flush out chemicals from the brain to help it de-stress.

“I believe what’s happening in the world today is that people are living in that flight-or-fight mode,” he said. “They’re stressed, they’re feeling anxiety and it’s not natural.”

Creating ASMR isn’t as simple as just getting any old microphone and a webcam. There’s a certain degree of skill and luck needed to make quality tingles.

“It’s something that you can’t touch, it’s something you can’t see. You can’t have someone else experience it unless they’re lucky enough to find something that works for them.

“It’s kind of hard to make it different. The objective is to try and help people relax, and if you’re lucky they’ll experience ASMR.”

In the beginning, before he knew what ASMR was, Dmitri would often search for videos that would trigger a tingling sensation.

“I’d look for massage or haircutting videos and that’s where I first found it,” he said. “I ended up watching a strange Russian lady doing some teaching role-play … and in the title, it had the words ASMR.”

Dmitri’s most popular video is a 10-hour compilation of his best ASMR sounds and has over 13 million views. Some YouTubers are even able to make a decent living from the ads on their videos alone.

That was until the recent YouTube advertiser boycott, where major advertisers objected to advertising algorithms that could potentially place their ads against content they would rather not be associated with.

As a result, channels have seen revenue plummet across the site.

“When it happened, pretty much all my videos would be just rejected [from monetisation], because … I don’t know, I’m just whispering into a microphone,” he said.

It’s a lot harder to get started as an ASMRtist today than when Dmitri first started. The biggest issue holding people back is Youtube’s algorithm itself.

“YouTube’s algorithm gives people that get a lot of views quickly a push to the top. People that are new don’t get many views and get put right down the search rankings.”

Creators on YouTube have even been experimenting with VR and 360-degree videos.

Before the term existed, the phenomenon was not well documented or talked about.

“There’s a large demographic of people in certain social circles that you just wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to them about it,” Dmitri said.

There’s a certain stigma around ASMR, stemming from one of the biggest misconceptions about the genre. Many people think that there is a sexual element involved due to the intimate nature of the videos.

“Most people that create and view ASMR would universally say we don’t experience sexual urges. It doesn’t make us feel anything sexual when we experience ASMR.”

Tully Jagoe and Susannah Bailey, who both regularly watch ASMR, agree.

It’s so incredibly not a sex thing,” Tully said.

“A lot of the really popular YouTube channels feature pretty girls talking very closely. It’s an intimate experience, and it can be sensual.”

The pair enjoy experiencing ASMR to the point where they have set up speakers beside their bed to listen to it as they fall asleep.

Susannah said it was relaxing. “It can be very centring. We’ll often have it going when we go to bed.”

ASMR can also be an important tool to help people meditate and practice mindfulness.

“Somebody advertised it to me as a mind-altering experience, which I very quickly gathered was not really the case, but it’s an incredible tool for meditation,” Tully  said.

Susannah said regular meditation was “pretty much impossible” for her.  “I’ve got ADHD so I’ve got a very overactive brain. If I have something that’s just enough to focus on with ASMR, I can just enjoy the experience.

“It’s a perfect combination of intimacy and solitude,” she said. “You have time away from the world and the stress of daily life but you still have that one-on-one, soft, personal attention.”

“Especially in a crazy sort of modern world where people are islands so much of the time. We tend to feel very solitary, very alone,” she said. “It’s a way of feeling connected to someone else without the pressure inherent in active social situations”