Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, more commonly known as ASMR, is one of the most curious phenomenons to grace the science of sound whilst maintaining a vast audience all across the globe. Through the power of the internet and word of mouth, more and more people are actively looking for videos of people scratching microphones, tapping fingernails and softly whispering into extremely sensitive mics, giving its listeners a sensory response like no other.
Sometimes described as Brain Tingles, Brain Massages and Brain Orgasms, listening to different triggers results in a small euphoric sensation for those that experience ASMR. The epicentre of the tingles and shivers, with the effects travelling down the shoulders and back (and, in some cases, to limbs), gives a sense of relaxation and peacefulness which some researchers believe may have positive effects on health and wellbeing. Not everyone responds to the same triggers, and some don’t have the response at all.
This is theorised to be linked to the perceptions of closeness and elements of care associated with certain sounds and sensations, which we as humans react to in the same way a child reacts to being held close to their mother, her hand running through their hair with comfort. It makes us feel safe and secure, and less troubled by the world around us because we’ve shut it out to focus our attention on these sensory triggers. So for someone looking for a sense of relationship and being cared for, ASMR offers a form of respite from the lack of those feelings, even if only in the short-term. One only has to search ASMR into Google or YouTube to find a plethora of channels and videos made by ASMRtists, freely accessible for the public to use to their heart’s content.
From what is to be considered the very first ASMR video uploaded by WhisperingLife in 2009 to new content being created every week, videos have evolved and changed to become more and more immersive with role-play and effects, yet they still hold true to their initial intended purpose of audible stimulation. The production of these videos can be complex – props, costumes, camera and SFX being elements in some examples – but in its simplest form, they only require the soft satisfying sounds and a binaural microphone to be effective. This acts to split the audio recorded into stereo sound through your headphones – one microphone for each ear that gives the illusion of closeness and proximity as the source of sound moves around you in a 3D space.
Scientifically speaking, there a is very finite amount of research materials on the subject – the term ASMR was only recently coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen, with the most prolific of research conducted by the ASMR University, run by Dr Craig Richard. But since its rising popularity online, more and more material is being produced in the aid of the scientific exploration of ASMR. Worldwide surveys, academic papers/pieces and books are just some of the examples of media exploring new angles from biological to social influence to the deconstruction and study of each individual aspect that comes together to create the trigger.