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Digital Trends: Exploring the ASMR Phenomenon

You may already be familiar with ASMR. News outlets, TV talkshows and numerous magazines have all featured this online trend of whisper videos intended to promote relaxation.

ASMR videos are a worldwide phenomenon. Videos exist in a great variety of languages from content creators all across the world.

In many ways, this phenomenon has entered the mainstream. Some of the most popular ASMR videos on Youtube have racked up millions of views. A number of popular online influencers have posted their own reaction videos, introducing their own fans to this type of content.

Even celebrities have been on the act, the likes of W Magazine have filmed A-list stars trying their hand at ASMR.  The popularity of ASMR is at an all time high. But it has not always been this way. So for those unfamiliar with the concept: what exactly is ASMR?

Defining ASMR

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ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. In short, it is a scientific term for the pleasant tingling sensation that some people feel on their scalp, neck or spine when induced by certain relaxing triggers.

Not everyone who watches ASMR videos experiences these tingles. In fact, those who do report this phenomenon suggest that there may be periods where these tingles go away completely.

The vast majority of people watch ASMR for relaxation purposes. Anecdotal evidence suggests it helps many people suffering with insomnia, anxiety and depression to fall asleep. Such content may also be of benefit for headache and migraine sufferers. Videos to help calm down panic attack sufferers during have also been created.

ASMR content is produced by a variety of content creators primarily on Youtube, however, such content does also appear on other platforms such as Twitch. Spotify, Soundcloud and specific ASMR apps for your smartphone.

The origins of ASMR videos can be traced back to the whisper community (as it was called back then) many years ago on Youtube. Since then, the videos themselves have become much more sophisticated and involve an ever increasing range of triggers to induce relaxation.

These triggers can be auditory and/or visual. Auditory triggers can be divided into wet (e.g. foam, cleaning) and dry (crinkling, crunchy) sounds. Popular triggers include typing on a keyboard, tapping on objects, brushing hair, applying makeup and much more.

ASMR videos are a worldwide phenomenon. Videos exist in a great variety of languages from content creators all across the world.

How ASMR has evolved

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ASMR has become much more elaborate as time has progressed. Content creators have upped their game regarding the visual and sound quality of their videos. However, lo-fi videos still have appeal to viewers.

Specialist mics such as the 3Dio, Blue Yeti and other binaural options have become commonplace among favoured content creators due to mic sensitivity. ASMR artists focus carefully on the sounds created to induce triggers and relaxation.

All kinds of everyday objects are frequently incorporated in these videos. One popular avenue for ASMR content includes roleplays, where triggers are grouped according to a scenario. For example, listening to a customer service rep or a hairdressing video.

Some enterprising content creators are quick to create content around popular franchises. A plethora of ASMR videos ranging from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones to popular video games such as Fortnite all exist. Creators likely do this to draw in new viewers from existing fandoms.

The production quality of some of these videos can be quite impressive. There have also been a few ASMR creators who have explored 360 content ideal for VR.

Green screens have been a mainstay within the ASMR community for a few years. Some creators can be deeply imaginative and have entire lore around specially created characters and places. Set and costume design can also be exquisitely intricate.

The duration of these videos also vary greatly. Videos can range from ten minutes to three hours. More commonly videos are recorded between thirty minutes to just over an hour, to give viewers enough time to fall asleep.

The ASMR community is driven forward by the innovation of its content creators. For example, the popular “sk” trigger was coined by an ASMR content creator called Heather Feather ASMR.

Controversies in ASMR

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The ASMR phenomenon is not without its own misunderstandings and even the odd controversy. While a generally wholesome community (for example creators often actively watch and support other creators), it has historically been misunderstood by some of the public.

Creators often have to leave a definition of ASMR in video information sections to re-direct new viewers. ASMR has been likened to a marmite scenario – people either feel relaxed or liken the sounds to nails screeching on a chalkboard.

Individuals with misophonia (a condition which results in strong emotional reactions to specific sounds) particularly may not get on with ASMR, or at least certain sounds within it.

There have been accusations of supposed sexual undertones within ASMR. Such accusations are denied by many ASMR creators and contradict the intention of the videos (i.e. to relax and help people sleep). But where do these accusations come from?

Firstly, ASMR has historically been mislabelled as intimate due to the sheer presence of whispering. The emergence of a certain subset of ASMR triggers called mouth sounds however is somewhat responsible for propelling this thought. Given that many of the popular ASMR creators on Youtube are young women, these two factors are enough to solidify this argument for its critics.

Despite mouth sounds being one divisive trigger in a vast array of ASMR triggers out there, an increasing number of new, emerging creators are seeking to capitalise on this controversial trend. The clickbait era could be partially to blame for this. Some ASMR creators and viewers have expressed disappointment towards the minority trying to sexualise a typically wholesome community geared around relaxation and sleep.

Monetisation

Another main point of contention is around the monetisation of ASMR content. Youtube content creators typically either make money through sponsorships, their own Patreon or advertisements. When it comes to ASMR, advertisements can be critically loud when trying to relax. Viewers tend to find this disruptive, so – combined with the growing popularity of ASMR – sponsorships within videos are becoming more commonplace.

ASMR apps have also emerged. One app, in particular, was accused for taking videos directly from Youtube without permission from creators. As a result, they were not getting paid for their work. While the app in question has since pulled any non-approved content, the incident has still left some with a bitter taste.

ASMR smartphone apps themselves appeal to viewers as they often include extra features. For example, listening while turning the screen off. It seems as if the ASMR industry is becoming more fragmented, with even the streaming site Twitch having a popular category devoted to ASMR content.

The formerly niche online ASMR community has captured mainstream attention. Its soaring popularity means that this online trend is unlikely to die down any time soon.

ASMR can act as an oasis of calm for individuals who are overburdened and frazzled in today’s fast-paced society. Many people experience sleep problems, for a variety of reasons, which ASMR aims to help with. It accounts for a vast genre of videos on Youtube, with a variety of creators, triggers and styles.

Whether you see ASMR as a weird online trend or a potential resource, individuals are reportedly benefitting from the content around the world.