As the stresses of modern life multiply, the quest for relaxation has never been more desperate. Screens are staying on longer, there are those Minority Report style video adverts on the Tube, and film trailers at the cinema are getting louder (I’m certain of it). So how can we find peace amongst the electric drone of the online era?
The answer could be to watch videos of people whispering – or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), the phenomenon being described as the latest YouTube craze.
ASMR has been discussed on the web since at least 2008. Early names for the phenomenon included ‘attention induced euphoria’ and ‘attention induced observant euphoria’, but ASMR ultimately triumphed.
The term was coined by the founder of ASMR Research & Support, Jennifer Allen, who defines it as 'a physical sensation characterised by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs.' It has also been described as giving 'brain orgasms'.
Nobody really knows what causes the sensation – Allen’s website was set up to help find that out – but there are certain practices said to stimulate the response.
Whispering seems to be the most common trigger, and a typical video on ASMR focused YouTube channels such as TheWaterwhispers features a great deal of unvoiced phonation. Other common cues appear to include towel folding, hair brushing, and head scratching – all done very gently, of course.
Not everybody experiences the response, but those who do are vocal about their experiences on forums and YouTube comments.
The phenomenon has its own section on popular website Reddit, Sounds That Feel Good, which has over 88,000 subscribers, as well as a number of Facebook pages dedicated to the subject. Videos by GentleWhispering, one of the most popular ASMR channels on YouTube, have been viewed more than 81 million times.
Practitioners say it can help with all manner of ailments, from everyday problems like trouble sleeping to more serious issues, such as depression.
Scott Jessop, who runs YouTube channel True Binaural and ASMR from his home in the UK, told The Independent that he first discovered the special tingling feeling as a child. He said: ‘Many years later I rediscovered ASMR. I suffer from insomnia and a couple of years ago I was up late looking for something to help me sleep.
‘I had been listening to a hypnosis video on YouTube and in the suggest videos on the right of the screen was a thumbnail of a girl’s face very close up and the intriguing title “ASMR ‘sk’ sound”.
‘I clicked and within seconds I felt the head hug flooding my skull.’
Many viewers of ASMR videos report similar feelings - safety, calm, joy – as a result of the experience. Jessop claims to receive ‘99% positive’ feedback from the online community, and says that it has helped him with issues in his own life.
Londoner David Isaacs, who experiences ASMR, told The Independent: ‘I first realised it when I talked to someone about the shivers I get when I have my hair cut. Lots of people get it at the hairdressers.
‘I also get it when I watch someone doing something really practical really well. Gardening, for example, or spreadsheets.’
However, evidence for ASMR – and especially its therapeutic benefits – is strictly anecdotal. There is no hard scientific evidence for the practice, and it is yet to be adapted for therapeutic use by any national body.
When asked about the views of the scientific community on ASMR, Jessop said: ‘unless you have an MRI scan, it is hard to quantify what is happening. There is much anecdotal evidence but scientifically this is irrelevant.’
What is required, according to Jessop, is more research.
Fortunately for ASMR 'artists', the lack of peer-reviewed journal articles doesn’t seem to deter YouTube viewers across the globe.Reuse content