“Hey, you still wanted me to do your makeup, right?”
It was an odd question for me, a man in his late thirties, but I’m not watching the video “Big Sis Does Your Makeup Roleplay” by Lily Whispers for foundation or powdering tips.
I’m watching it for the tingling sensation that starts in my lower back, moves up through my shoulders up into my temples right around when Lily delicately whispers, “We haven’t spent that much time together this summer.”
The hair on my arms is standing up and it feels like someone is massaging my head.
This is ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. “You know that tingly feeling you get when you get a massage or you watch someone paint or when you get a haircut? It’s like that, but over the Internet,” Lily said in an email.
ASMR isn’t a medical term—it was coined in 2010 at the creation of a Facebook group to discuss the sensation and its triggers. And, there’s not much clinical or peer-reviewed research around the phenomena, but there are devoted content creators and fans making and watching videos by the millions on YouTube.
Lily Whispers has over 160,000 subscribers with more than 33 million views of her videos. A typical video involves lots of whispering, mouth sounds, blowing, crinkling and even gum chewing (I don’t think the gum chewing one will work on me, but at 1:21 my head starts tingling for reasons I can’t even begin to explain.)
Lily found ASMR videos during her freshman year of college. “I couldn’t sleep. I was having anxiety and so the timing of being recommended an ASMR video couldn’t have been better. This was April 2013. By July 2013, I had already uploaded my first video.”
And with that, Lily joined the community of ASMR-tists on YouTube. “I’ve been lucky to have my subscribers call me a ‘friend’, which is all that I’ve ever wanted from my channel—to make it a safe-haven for people who feel like they have no one,” she said.
Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR—another channel with over 1 million subscribers—described a similar exposure to ASMR. “I went on YouTube and searched for relaxing sounds and found videos that were of people whispering with a dark screen,” she said. “As soon as I heard the sounds it took me back to the same feeling I had as a very young girl when my friends would brush my hair or we would have a detailed task that a teacher would explain to us.”
There’s definitely an element of new agey-ness to the ASMR community, but they don’t tend to take themselves too seriously—they’re all too focused on chasing the tingles. “Everyone’s super kind and supportive! We’re all ecstatic about the growth of ASMR. We tweet and email each other, collaborate and even meet up,” Lily said. “I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of the ASMR world.”
Maria’s experience with the community has also been positive.
“I am often taken aback by people who pour their hearts out in the comments or emails about how a particular video has helped them in a certain way,” Maria said about the ASMR community. “There have been so many wonderful messages of viewers saying they’ve been helped through depression, insomnia, PTSD, anxiety attacks and so many other ailments just from watching and listening.”
Ashley Patterson, a publicist in Beverly Hills, is a regular ASMR video consumer who started watching them in college.
“They help me easily fall asleep at night. Sometimes when I know I’ll have a tough day ahead of me, I’ll even watch a video or two before getting ready for work,” she said. “Their voices and hand movements are very calming and relaxing.”
“Many of us don’t really have the time during a day to actually sit down and relax,” Maria said. “ASMR focuses on the most mundane tasks and forces you to pay attention to small details that often get overlooked in our fast-paced lives.”
The jury’s still out on whether ASMR has any benefit beyond feeling pretty spectacular to those who get the tingles. Ready to find it if you’re one of those people? Take a few minutes, turn down the lights and mellow out with whispering and crinkles and mouth sounds.