What is ASMR?

Chances are, you’ve already stumbled across a video of a woman whispering into a camera, or maybe people cutting through soap and poking on slime on the internet. Whispering melodic voices or interacting with soap and slime doesn’t sound particularly interesting, although millions of people are somehow mesmerized by these kinds of videos — ASMR videos to be specific. Coming from chat rooms and message boards, social media has allowed this phenomenon to enter the mainstream, from thousands of Instagram accounts, YouTube channels, podcasts, and to other social media outlets dedicated to the phenomenon.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, it is a way of describing the feeling of ticklish, pleasant, shivers moving up and down your body, usually along your shoulders and at the back of your neck, in response to a visual, auditory, physical stimuli or “triggers”. The ASMR community refers to the effect as “tingles”. Aside from being relaxing, it’s euphoric and affects people sensitive to it in a lot of different ways.

Similar to ASMR, frisson is its musically-inclined cousin. Frisson is the feeling some people get when a guitarist is able to hit that one note in the solo that makes skin feel electric and your hair stand on end, making the world seem wonderful at that moment. 

ASMR is distinct from frisson, but similar in that it’s another form of synesthesia. Synesthesia is a phenomenon by which experiencing something with one sense leads to an involuntary reaction from another sense. There are many variations of synesthesia, from people being able to taste color to people associating different colors with numbers or letters written in black ink. In frisson, the audio input causes a tactile output, the shudders and tingles you get.

For people with sensitivity to ASMR, inputs are more broad and can be either visual or auditory as long as they lead to involuntary physical response. Albeit lacking the clinical studies linking synesthesia to ASMR, it is a good comparison to make as it illustrates how the tingles manifest. 

WHERE DID ASMR START

The rise of ASMR into the mainstream media is an example of the internet’s ability to bring people together. On the health forum steadyhealth.com, a user name “okay whatever” posted “Weird Sensation Feels Good” and became the earliest known mention of the sensation.  The thread grew and people started helping to define and codify the experience of ASMR, and thus, a community was born. The term is believed to have been coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen who created a Facebook group dedicated to finding out more about the sensation. Through the newly coined term, it quickly caught on as people had a way to reference the sensations they had been experiencing.

The presence of ASMR quickly rose as it became a community across different platforms, from Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok. The subreddit for ASMR is very active with over 175k subscribers, sharing their own experiences, it is an effort to not just engage in self-care, but also to encourage others to engage in it as well in the most effective way.

TRIGGERS AND DIFFERENT TYPES

People who respond to ASMR refer to “triggers” as the stimuli that make them feel tingle. There are different types of triggers, some are oddly specific, from the pop and crack of a vinyl record to the sounds of getting your haircut. Triggers vary from person to person. Popular categories of ASMR videos include chewing or mouth sounds, repetitive sounds, tapping sounds, whispered or soft speech, receiving intimate service like a haircut or a massage.

There are many types of ASMR so much as the fact that everyone experiences it differently. Some people experience ASMR after watching videos with no audio input required, some only respond to whispered speech. “I’ve noticed that one day you will be more sensitive toward role-playing, then another you’ll be more sensitive to swishing sounds, it really varies” as Maria, who manages the Gentle Whispering Channel on youtube with more than 1.3 million subscribers. Apparently, people tend to grow tolerant on triggers if they watch or listen to them too much. It is vital for ASMR video creators to keep things fresh, while the viewers make sure they refrain from overplaying a material.

Creating ASMR videos can be a creative outlet for some. They describe it as arts, many call themselves as ASMR artists or ASRMtist. People draw inspiration to the videos they watch and eventually create ones of their own. Finding new triggers is one of the big goals for ASMR artist, keeping things fresh as people go crazy about new triggers created.

VISUAL AND MOTION DESIGN

Visual and motion design has been leaning towards a smooth, three-dimensional aesthetic with a certain sensorial quality that gives satisfaction to viewers. Fantastical and whimsical concepts, with subjects rooted in reality through lighting and textures. Although may not be inspired by the ASMR trend, this emergent genre is an agreement between designers and ASMR to somehow share a reliance on repetitive textural elements to produce that abstract, tactile connection. 

“One big reason why ASMR content is such a hit [especially in the West] is because of social isolation. It is kind of a gateway into a half-synthesized, half-real world,” says Nikunj Patel, a visual artist and music producer based in Mumbai, he creates audio-visual content for live events under the name Moebius. His work is inspired by music, rhythms and patterns are followed, often repeating and essentially looping structures that evolve over time. Nikunj explains that animation is based on space, timing, and behavior, the same techniques and variables employed in dance, meditation, physiotherapy, and ASMR to create a natural flow that calms the mind and body. 

Anticipation and repetition techniques used in animation helps viewers to reach a zen-like state, allowing us to see details we may have missed otherwise. Aarman Roy is a graphic designer studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he believes that in a screen-heavy world, motion is the way forward. “[Loops help] create this endless world where you can float; a break from hectic life. A lot of [my loops] have subtle motion, which is in line with ASMR videos; even with complex motion, the end is always a sense of linear interpolation,” says Aarman.

Andreas Wannerstedt

Images from www.andreaswannerstedt.se

The Stockholm-based artist and art director Andreas Wannerstedt creates unique 3D sculptures and captivating looping animations. “My art is all about interactions between shape and space. It’s a sophisticated and whimsical portal into the perfect world of physics, movement, and predictability. Inspired by ASMR, as well as real-world mechanics and motion patterns from our everyday lives, my digital puzzles are brought to life with the help of computers and 3D software, enabling perpetual motion with an abstract touch” as he describes his work. 

Andreas has done commissioned work for brands like Ikea, Google, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Spotify, Absolut Vodka, and Red Bull. “I want to transport my viewers into a meditative state, and to trigger that inexplicable feeling of odd satisfaction we all know. My art is very much influenced by the way we consume art nowadays, with the help of technology and social platforms such as Instagram. In a time when we are flooded with visual stimulation, I think short loops are optimal to attract the attention of the viewers and soothe their psyche,” as he explains visual stimulation and triggers.

Oscar Pettersson

Images from www.oscarpettersson.se

Oscar Pettersson is a co-founder of Scandinavian design duo Part One. Oscar describes his aesthetic as “seamless intricate animations with geometric designs”. He adds industrial sounds like heavy machinery functioning and overlays rock/metal instrumental music to his work. 

Although he didn’t set out as an ASMR artist, it was an accidental inclusion to his work as a 3D motion designer. “I studied motion creative at Hyper Island, an international design school. After running a studio for a couple of years with some classmates, I went freelance. I love it!”, explaining his journey into being a freelance designer.

Oliver Latta

Images from www.extraweg.com

Extraordinary and slightly disconcerting imagery can be found in Oliver Latta’s Instagram feed. Berlin-based 3D artist and art director Oliver is inspired by everyday situations. “I like showing them in an ambiguous and uncomfortable way, trying to focus on provoking sensations in the viewers, forcing them to think for themselves,” he explains, “I seek to draw attention to the things that concern or amuse me in a way or another. But rather than showing them in an explicit way, I choose to represent them in an ambiguous way, without being very obvious and always playing with the limits.”

BENEFITS OF ASMR

Although being a new field of study medically and neurologically, ASMR can have health benefits according to the University of Sheffield. The gist of the study was that people with ASMR sensitivity had significantly reduced heart rates while watching videos made to trigger the response as opposed to the people without ASMR sensitivity when watching the same video, averaging from 3 beats per minute. The test group that was sensitive to ASMR reported that the experienced feeling of calmness and excitement to a much larger degree than the group that was not. Upon watching the videos, it is also found that those same people were much more relaxed than the control group. According to the researchers, the implication of the ASMR videos is that it can be as effective as the other well-researched stress reduction techniques, like listening to music or meditation in people who have ASMR sensitivity. 

A clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, Steven Novella, suggested a potential scientific basis for the sensation or experience through a post on NeuroLogica Blog in 2012. “Perhaps ASMR is a type of seizure. Seizures can sometimes be pleasurable, and can be triggered by these sorts of things. Or, ASMR could be just a way of activating the pleasure response. Vertebrate brains are fundamentally hardwired for pleasure and pain — for positive and negative behavioral feedback.” says Steven. 

Beyond peer-reviewed studies along with the research done by the University of Sheffield, people have claimed that ASMR videos have helped them with a wide range of mental health issues from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Albeit missing the hard data, it seems like more and more people are adding ASMR as part of their mental self-care.

Cover Image from www.andreaswannerstedt.se

Giann Matias is a multi-faceted architectural designer based in Manila. His inquisitive nature and passion for design has led him to be part of an industry that lifts the living standards of people. An eye for design and a sucker for human-centered ideas fuels him to create unique spaces and places. He believes that the future of design is collaboration and that everyone has a chance to have a hand at defining our world. If you see him taking a break from designing and writing, you will notice his outgoing spirit, love for food, eye for memes, and being tall for no apparent reason.

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