Looking for something new to help you relax? Look no further than ASMR, the sleeper sensation of the YouTube era.
There’s a thriving “whisper community” on YouTube in search of their next brain orgasm.
Autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR for the uninitiated, is a relaxing sensory experience to various audio or visual stimuli.
Known as “brain tingles,” ASMR has become so popular on the internet and social media that it was officially recognized as a word by Merriam-Webster in 2020.
Hundreds of new ASMR YouTube videos are created daily, expanding upon an already seemingly endless library of soothing, nonsexual whisper porn.
My initiation into ASMR
I had my first brain orgasm while I was researching for this article.
I was hypnotized by Gentle Whispering ASMR’s rubber-gloved hands as soft, delicate whispers circled my head, traveling from ear to ear.
I became transfixed by Chynaunique as she applied clear lip gloss to a perfect pout before biting into a jelly-filled marshmallow and squeezing it between two fingers to reveal its gooey center.
ASMR is considered nonsexual, mind you, but at that moment, I understood how some people may become aroused.
Proponents of ASMR have described the experience as a tingling sensation that begins at the crown of the head and travels down into the spine and limbs. What follows is deep relaxation, drowsiness, and bliss.
Just about any household object can be used to “trigger” ASMR — from sponges, marbles, and scissors to toilet paper rolls, makeup, Mason jars, and even video game controllers.
For instance, I watched mzg ASMR perform an “ASMR haircut” with a pair of shears and buzz clippers. I observed ASMR Crush on 9 engage in “fast and aggressive makeup role-play” in Korean with a slew of cosmetic products.
In most cases, though, ASMR is characterized by soft, faint whispering. There are countless ASMR YouTubers, but some of the most well-known appear to be young women.
Some of the most popular ASMR YouTube channels include:
- SAS-ASMR (9.32 million subscribers)
- Gibi ASMR (4.04 million subscribers)
- ASMR PPOMO (2.56 million subscribers)
- ASMR Darling (2.54 million subscribers)
- Gentle Whispering ASMR (2.15 million subscribers)
How does ASMR work?
The ASMR community uses the word “trigger” to describe the experience of being stimulated by visual or auditory stimuli. ASMR relies on these “triggers” to evoke pleasant sensations and emotions.
But ASMR can also be a form of entertainment.
When I watched Australian YouTuber Jojo ASMR perform 1,000 ASMR triggers with friends in a mind-melting mashup using touch and audibles — 30 straight minutes of colorful clicking crackling crumbling crunching blipping blooping rapping tapping twirling whirling swirling scratching wishing and swooshing — I realized how vast ASMR can be.
ASMR can be triggered by:
- visual stimulus
- physical touch
Techniques to induce audio ASMR can vary, but in general, the act of moving one’s voice and objects around one to two high quality microphones can trigger the tingles.
The audio often alternates between ears and even different points within each ear. The result is truly “braingasmic.”
At times, I could almost sense the sounds traveling from one part of my brain to another, generating mild waves of euphoria that massaged my weary mind. At other times, however, I found certain sounds to be mildly agitating.
Why ASMR doesn’t work for everyone
Spoiler alert: Not everyone experiences ASMR in the same way.
“Although there tend to be certain sounds that people, more often than not, associate with positive experiences [and] sensations, everyone is different,” Poulakos says. “What one finds soothing, someone else may find irritating or even destabilizing.”
The psychological basis of ASMR has not yet been fully established.
Findings indicate that people who watch or listen to ASMR tend to score higher on the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS), which measures the attention component of mindfulness.
“Certain sounds have been shown to elicit a pleasant effect, a sense of calmness, lifting one’s anxiety,” Poulakos says. “One possible explanation for this relies on the mind-body connection.”
However, a 2017 study of ASMR enthusiasts, first-timers, and others who’ve tried ASMR before reported benefits consistent with prior expectations due to popularity or suggested benefits.
Is ASMR good for mental health?
Still, Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist, author, and podcast host, clarifies that though ASMR to treat anxiety isn’t yet an established clinical therapy, there may be a few factors at play that help soothe people encountering anxiety symptoms.
“People who are experiencing ASMR are experiencing a complex sensory emotional experience that involves both the brain and the body, which [some research shows] creates a euphoric or bliss-like state, often referred to as being ‘in the zone,’” Leaf explains.
There are hundreds — possibly thousands — of ASMR types and triggers.
Below are a few examples of ASMR triggers in action, performed by some of the most well-known ASMR YouTubers. If you’re sensitive to certain sounds, please proceed with caution.
Gibi ASMR: Whispering and tapping
American YouTube star Gibi ASMR started making videos in 2016, but had been “religiously” consuming ASMR content for about 5 years prior as “an anxious sophomore in high school who could never sleep.”
“I was very deep into the YouTube world and ended up stumbling upon the ‘whisper community,’” Gibi tells me. “I also have ADHD and have a hard time concentrating when something exciting like music or a TV show is playing, so ASMR really was always great for me.”
Chynaunique ASMR: Soft eating sounds
Texas-based Chynaunique began consuming ASMR videos during her teen years to manage her depression and anxiety and help her sleep. She says she wanted to “give back to the community” by creating her own ASMR content.
“Millions of my supporters have written to me, telling me stories about how my ASMR videos and other ASMR content has helped them overcome mental [challenges], improve their sleep, and become more optimistic,” she says.
Gentle Whispering ASMR: ‘Fluffy’ sounds and whispers
California-based Russian YouTube star Maria Gentle Whispering has been creating ASMR content since 2011 to promote relaxation and sleep.
The longtime ASMR advocate originally created her community around unique triggers that she was unable to find elsewhere on the internet. She adds that soft-spoken or whispers are some of her top requests.
“All of us in the ASMR community have a wide range of triggers and types of content that we enjoy, which is a good thing,” Maria emphasizes.
John Butler: ‘Unintentional’ ASMR
One video that has been particularly resonant features a 1-hour interview with Butler that had aired on the U.K.-based YouTube channel ConsciousTV. (The questions from interviewer Iain McNay had been edited out to provide one long glorious stream of consciousness from Butler.)
John Egan, who runs the popular YouTube channel Pure Unintentional ASMR in Vancouver, Canada, says he thinks many people find Butler an unlikely and unintentional star in the world of ASMR simply because of his voice and intention.
“He’s soft-spoken and well-spoken, and is generally speaking about gentle and uplifting things,” Egan says. “Personally, his voice is one of the most relaxing voices I’ve ever heard in my life.”
ASMR provides viewers and listeners with a brief mental escape, which fans around the world have found especially beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve received countless comments about people using my content to combat their pandemic anxiety and stress, and I myself have found ASMR to be incredibly comforting recently,” Gibi says.
Whether you’re considering ASMR to promote relaxation, improve sleep, or reduce stress and anxiety, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor or mental health professional about treatment first. It’s also important to be aware of trigger sounds that may elicit a negative response.
If certain sounds fail to soothe your mind, you could try ASMR exercises that focus on visual triggers instead.
“ASMR is an unspeakably large genre,” Gibi says. “You can find so much in it; there will almost always be something for you in there — it’s simply a different form of media.”
Andrea Rice (she/her) is an award-winning journalist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a staff writer for PsychCentral, she covers mental health news and trending topics. Her work has appeared in news outlets such as The New York Times and INDY Week, and wellness publications such as Yoga Journal, Verywell, and mindbodygreen. As a yoga and meditation teacher since 2010, Andrea’s book, The Yoga Almanac, offers seasonal practices to nourish the body and mind. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter, and read more of her work on her website.