Australia’s Next Top ASMRtist: A Look into the Production and Consumption of ASMR Media

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response; a series of words that, when presented in isolation, are unlikely to instil any meaning in the readers’ mind. If you were to use this vaguely medical-sounding term in casual conversation I can only imagine the listener tilting their head like a puppy; a vacant look of curiosity expressed at 30 degrees. But what ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR) actually describes is a feeling that is (anecdotally) much more likely to be familiar. It’s a physiological response yet to be described by medical science. Yet, thanks to the long tail effect and the logic of networked communities, ASMR has grown from casual discussions in online threads into a large, growing community of ASMR-triggering media consumers and producers (Hudson 2015). The ASMR subreddit has become one of the largest resources on the subject, with over 110 500 subscribers at time of writing. But what the hell is it?

“Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being.” (Barratt and Davis 2015)

ASMR is a euphoric, tingling sensation in the scalp that is triggered in certain individuals when they are presented with certain audio and visual stimuli in intimate spaces. In the first of very few scientific studies into the phenomenon, Barratt and Davis (2015) identify the most common ASMR triggers as ‘whispering’, ‘personal attention’, ‘crisp sounds’, and ‘slow movements’. Based on these triggers – which had already been largely discovered anecdotally in the community – a large community of ASMRtists have emerged on platforms such as YouTube, producing video media designed to trigger ASMR experiences (Hudson 2015). These videos broadly tend to either be role plays of intimate, first person experiences where the ASMRtist is paying close personal attention to you (haircuts, medical examinations, etc), or they are slow, quiet videos of the ASRMtist acting upon an object in some way (eg. an unboxing video). In the video that made me realize I experienced ASMR, the performer ‘ASMR Angel’ spends 25 minutes wrapping Christmas presents.

However, within these two very broad types of video, a great many different genres and flavours of ASMR triggering videos have emerged. These include Sci-Fi ‘Memory Erasure Roleplays’, ASMRotica and even ASMR Let’s Play videos. Within the past year there have been a number of ASMR VR experiences, the first of which was a co-production between several ASMRtists called ‘The K3YS’. The intimate space creation core to ASMR videos makes immersive VR technologies a natural and logical platform for the future of the media – which already utilizes binaural technologies to create 3D soundscapes that give a sense of intimate space (Hudson 2015).

The project I am proposing is to explore the triggers, techniques and technologies that create the best experiences for ASMR users and try and create a new piece ASMR media from scratch. The plan is to recruit the help of classmates and other interested people to find out which of them experiences the phenomenon and who is capable of triggering it in others. I am also interested in examining and explaining the role of gender and sexuality at play in these videos (many of which appear to be performed by conventionally attractive young women) and testing possible links between ASRM and synaesthesia, misophonia, and ‘flow state’ (Barratt and Davis 2015). It would also be worth looking at a comparison between the intensity of the euphoric ASMR experience across different technologies (eg. binaural and VR).

Can we launch a new, undiscovered ASMRtist talent?

I am excited to find out.

6 thoughts on “Australia’s Next Top ASMRtist: A Look into the Production and Consumption of ASMR Media

  1. I have never heard of ASMR previously, therefore this topic immediately perked my interest. You did mention that little scientific research has been done, but so far, have they come up with a reason for this reaction or is the concept to young to have studied that far in-depth? Looking at your topic, it would be intriguing to see what stimulates people, whether it differs between sexes and even if some people are more predisposed to having a reaction to the stimuli than others. Maybe you could even find a whole new stimuli that people haven’t tried before!

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  2. As you know, I have misophonia, which is a “hatred of sounds” or a strong negative emotional response to everyday sounds such as chewing/oral sounds or a clock ticking, and so on. Since you explained about ASMR to me and also watching some of these YouTube videos I discovered I also experience ASMR and that some of the triggers for ASMR also trigger my misophonia, leaving me in an excruciating conflict of feelings.
    I found out I am not alone in experiencing both ASMR and misophonia!! http://www.mdjunction.com/forums/4s-selective-soft-sound-syndrome-discussions/general-support/10408342-misophonia-and-asmr
    There are a number of comments on this blog discussing people experiencing both of these phenomena. https://lifewithmisophonia.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/asmr-the-opposite-of-misophonia/
    I don’t know if any of this is helpful but I know it’s a bit relevant and good to see other people are talking about ASMR and misophonia together especially since it’s online discussion and part of cyberculture. It would be cool if a part of your DA focused on this possible spectrum or clash of reactions 🙂

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  3. Wow this is such an interesting topic! It is so interesting to have vague experiences I have had before put into legitimate terms and definitions I didn’t even know existed. I went through a phase of showing everyone probably one of the more common ASMR vids – the virtual barber shop (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA), because the experience is just so surreal. I think it would be interesting to compare demographics such as age as well as people who experiment with drugs that give a similar feeling of euphoria in addition to gender and sexuality that you mentioned.
    I’d also be interested in the long term benefits or goals, if you will, rather than temporary pleasure states. Something like this article might be useful http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21683603.2016.1130582
    Super interested in this, I will definitely be staying tuned!

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  4. I do really think it’d be amazing to see how exactly ASMR relates to this concept of the body’s psychic double and disembodied but still physical experience that Julian Dibble spoke about. I also want to hear more about it’s relationship to things like synaesthesia (which I understand is a tall order given that you’ll have your hands full with this alone and they’re both still so ill understood). I can recommend a docco about synesthetes called “Derek Tastes of Earwax” if you’re interested: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1olkn1_synaesthesia-derek-tastes-of-earwax-horizon_tech

    Although, I would warn that it’s a bit old now and some of the research stuff they’re doing is really frustrating to watch as a synesthete because it’s wrong and clearly put together by someone who doesn’t get it. Also the visual depiction of the capital letter colouring the whole word is wrong. And they seem to think we actually visually perceive words that are physically in front of us as being in colour which is super not the case. BUT APART FROM THAT, it’s a fun thing to watch.

    I’d also like to see how much of an ASMR sensation is dependant on specific senses? Does it work better as just sound, can it exist without sound, if other senses like smeel and touch were to get involved what would happen, where does the physical body fit into all this? Those sorts of things. But I suppose we have some of that and it’s called real life… I don’t know what I’m saying any more, it’s all just very interesting and I’ve thrown my thoughts at you.

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