Does this tingle you? ASMR videos have millions of viewers on YouTube

  • Awareness
  • 23/08/2018
  • Finnish Safer Internet Centre

For several years now there has been a trend of ASMR videos, especially on YouTube, by both amateur and professional YouTubers. Here, Julia Alajärvi, Project Manager at the Finnish Safer Internet Centre (SIC) (National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI)) talks about the phenomenon and some of the potential challenges.

The term ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Wikipedia explains it as follows:
"ASMR is a term used for an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of "low-grade euphoria" characterised by ‘a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin'. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control."
In other words, it means that a person gets some kind of positive and enjoyable sensations from the actions of another person, intentionally or not; it has nothing to do with sex or sexual acts (although the phrase "brain orgasm" is sometimes used in this context). Triggering stimuli can be the sound of certain shoes tapping on the floor, the pages of a book being turned, watching paper being folded, someone being massaged, or watching someone popping plastic bubble wrap. Hearing and/or watching triggering things cause relaxation, tingling feeling in your body, and other positive effects. Different people have different "trigger points" and favourites to gain "euphoric" feeling or a maximum relaxation level. It is also known that some people have no ASMR sensations at all.
Seeking deep relaxation
There are many different types of ASMR, but videos are the ones that most concern the Insafe Network. There is a huge community of ASMR YouTubers, with the first ASMR videos loaded around ten years ago. ASMR has been a huge thing on the web for around five years now, and the first peer-reviewed study of the subject was published in 2015.
ASMR videos have certain interesting characteristics and genres that are easily recognisable. One thing seems to be common for all: if the person in the video speaks, it is done by whispering or otherwise speaking very softly. Also, in most of the videos, the person filming them is speaking directly to the viewer with direct eye contact and a personal tone. In almost all ASMR videos, relaxation and stress relief, among the tingling sensation, are the key goals, and some people use the videos to alleviate sleep problems.
Popular ASMR genres include:
  1. Presenting simple trigger launchers (tapping different surfaces with fingers/nails, brushing some ones hair/scalp, swiping the microphone with a make-up brush etc.).
  2. Roleplay videos, where the effect is reached by having undivided attention from the person on screen (roleplay such as a make-up or hair salon, sales person/customer interaction, doctors appointment, and so on).
  3. Arts and crafts videos, where the actual process of creating something is the key focus and the person doing it is "behind" the camera (paper folding, making slime, cooking, and so on).
  4. Make-up or skin care product routine videos, where a person is showing his or her daily routine to the viewer.
  5. "Tour" videos, where a person presents his or her personal items such as the content of a handbag, kitchen cabinet, jewellery box or smartphone.
In addition, there are several other genres and sub-genres, as well as unintentional ASMR where the content of the video was not specifically planned with an ASMR purpose but is found highly triggering or relaxing.
In the ASMR context, the content of the video is, in many cases, a secondary issue. What is more important is how the person making the video creates a relaxing atmosphere and succeeds in delivering the triggering sensations typical to ASMR. Just by typing ASMR in the search field on YouTube, it is very clear that most of the ASMR video producers are women - and someone might add, attractive women. This is no notable difference when we view the gender of lifestyle bloggers or vloggers in general. There are also sites and vloggers who use "ASMR methods" to provoke sexual desires, or at least are more provocative with their outfits and style of speech. These videos do not usually appear in the normal YouTube suggestion stream however. Additionally, some ASMR vloggers also have commercial content in their videos.
All in all, ASMR videos can be considered as entertainment, a hobby or a stress relief method in the age of the internet. Risks can be found most likely in excessive use or by encountering "false ASMR" videos with sexual or other harmful use. However, this is unlikely if it is not the viewers intention. 
Popular ASMR channels include:
The New Yorker Magazine published an informative video article about ASMR in May 2018. In the video, one popular ASMR star and an academic researcher give their thoughts about why ASMR is a phenomenon in the internet.
Find out more about the work of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre (SIC), including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

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