asmr research paper, final. due december 17th, 2018. // alice bodge, allison, FILM208
In 2011, I was in bed, unable to sleep. I went on YouTube to search up “relaxing video”, and stumbled onto a video titled Nurse (soft spoken). Obviously perplexed, I watched the video of a woman pretending to give the viewer a checkup — I had never seen anything like it. A woman whispering into her camera was so strange yet fascinating to me, which inspired me to look into it. I ended up discovering an entire community on the Internet: ASMR.
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and is known for the infamous and sometimes unsettling videos created on YouTube, from whispering young women to outlandish alien roleplays. John Cline describes the sensation of ASMR as “the experience of tingling sensations in the crown of the head, in response to a range of audio-visual triggers such as whispering, tapping and hand movements”.
This is a formal way to explain the relaxation one may get from “satisfying” noises or other feelings; a friend doing your makeup or scratching your back can give you ASMR, as well as someone typing on their computer — it ranges from visual triggers to sound, with plenty of little things in between.
It’s important to note, too, that while the formal definition constitutes ASMR as giving one tingles, it also applies to those who simply get a pleasant feeling from relaxing videos. Personally, I have never felt tingles, but certain ASMR videos will actually help me fall asleep. I don’t tend to tell all of my friends this, but there was a time where it even mortified me that I could fall asleep to a woman whispering to me.
While ASMR may be a popular topic on social media nowadays, this wasn’t always the case. Though for years I’ve been keeping up with the growth of ASMR, I had been embarrassed to bring it up to friends until recently. This embarrassment came from how unique and unusual the phenomenon was; a stranger whispering into their camera in attempts to comfort you isn’t the easiest idea to get on board with. I knew others would find it as strange as I did, so I kept quiet until ASMR recently came into the spotlight.
comments on Gentle Whispering ASMR’s What is ASMR? video below:
Digital media has overtime grown the community into what it is now, popularizing it and breaking the “creepy” stigma it held in the early years. Digital media is responsible for the birth and growth of ASMR; forums and online communities formally created it, platforms like YouTube fostered the growth, and large social sites such as Twitter popularized it.
Different types of digital media were used together in order to make this community into a popular part of pop culture. One can see ASMR infiltrating into pop culture today, through Twitter memes, celebrity interviews and YouTube reaction videos.
But ASMR wasn’t always the household name that it is today. The birth of ASMR, according to Craig Richard on his History of ASMR website, dates back to 2007. A post titled Weird sensation feels good was published on the forum steadyhealth.com, which sparked a conversation about the feelings associated with ASMR (Richard). Through this forum, people who experienced tingles could feel less alone; through a digital communal platform, a community was formed, naming the feeling “attention induced head orgasm” (Long). AIHO was discussed through forums, and by 2010, a sizable community was grown.
AIHO wasn’t the best choice of words, however; these videos of people, typically women, whispering into cameras at a close angle was commonly taken sexually (some people today still view the videos as sexual). With a name like “head orgasm”, the view of ASMR or AIHO only became more negative. In 2010, Jennifer Allen, a member of the community who also experienced tingles, decided to create the term ASMR in order for the group to be taken more seriously (Richard).
This was revolutionary for the ASMR community; those who felt it now had an official way to communicate about triggers and feelings, and content creators could start labeling their videos as ASMR.
This label made it much easier to consume ASMR content on YouTube. Imagine not knowing the name of your favorite YouTuber, and having to type in their attributes and qualities of their videos. If you were a fan of Emma Chamberlain, for example, and didn’t know her name, you’d have to type in “funny youtuber brunette”.
clearly, emma chamberlain isn’t coming up on this search:
This struggle is what ASMR fans had prior to Allen coining a legitimate name for it. People would have to search up Bob Ross videos, or find a medical exam where the doctor conveniently was speaking quietly. After 2010, fans were able to simply type ASMR into their search engine to watch anything they wanted.
Allen’s formalization of the term ASMR in turn formalized the community following it, thus giving people a language to discuss it with (Long). Rebecca Long states that “there is no record of ASMR existing until a few years ago because people had no way of talking about it”. This rings true, further proving how digital media as simple as online forums can spark movements such as ASMR — it also shows how trends truly do not exist until they’re born online.
After the initial formalization of ASMR on Reddit and other forums, the community started to grow steadily. Richard’s History of ASMR explains that after the first wave of forums and subreddit posts made, Long created a Facebook page for members of the online community to join, further pushing the growth.
While smaller scale, communally based platforms were used to birth ASMR, broader spreads of digital media started to attract more ASMR fans, and simply people interested in the concept (such as myself). By 2015, journals, articles, and a documentary were all produced on the unique whispering videos. Digital media isn’t limited to social platforms; media such as online journals or films brought light to ASMR and pushed its exponential growth along.
Those who weren’t turned off by its seemingly sexual nature were fascinated in the different kinds of relaxing videos, and plenty of ASMR community members started to create their own content. YouTubers such as Gentle Whispering ASMR and Heather Feather dominated the early content created (channels pictured above), but soon plenty of fans were enticed to create content — this ended up further growing ASMR even more.
YouTube is the main site that fostered the growth of ASMR, and it’s not hard to understand why. Rob Gallagher states that “it makes sense that web users increasingly look to platforms like YouTube for solace, affirmation and relaxation”, and it’s clear why — YouTube is the perfect platform for ASMR because of how accessible it is both to viewers and those who want to create content. I found in my creative project that it was almost too easy to pick up a camera, film myself tapping objects around the room, and post it. This process took about thirty minutes — which is nothing compared to the days of preparation that popular and professional ASMRtists commit to.
Early ASMR videos were simple; I can recall around 2011 watching sound assortments with dim lighting and basic triggers. However, a search for ASMR videos today will show numerous high quality videos, ASMRtists using professional lighting and microphones specifically built for their craft.
side by side comparison of a 2011 nurse roleplay vs. a 2018 nurse roleplay
Technology adapted to ASMR, finding ways to improve a viewer’s experience — this use of technology also shows an ASMRtist’s quality. One of the early “queens of ASMR” is ASMRrequests, famous with three million views for a high quality, revolutionary video posted. The editing was impressive, with digital features and her in a detailed costume. ASMR videos and improving technology went hand in hand.
Yet aesthetics isn’t all there is to making a legitimate ASMR video, and digital media also provided a platform for constructive criticism. ASMR videos evolved and improved because of the community discussion on digital media platforms like Reddit. In Eliciting Euphoria Online: The Aesthetics of ‘ASMR’ Video Culture, Gallagher discusses the upvote and downvote feature on the r/ASMR page. ASMR fans would use this feature in order to rank the most effective videos; this rank was purely based on how well the video did its job. Gallagher explains that “this [feature] is measured via feedback mechanisms (comments, views, ‘likes’, upvotes) linking audiences to uploaders and ASMRtists”. Digital media platforms like Reddit created a link from viewers to the ASMRtist; it also plays into the participatory affordance that Janet Murray is known for discussing.
Because viewers have a platform to up or downvote videos they deem effective or not, ASMRtists are able to take the feedback and “tune their aesthetic strategies accordingly” (Gallagher). YouTube allows ASMRtists to create their own content, but Reddit gives the viewers influence over the content they see.
By 2016, ASMR as a community and genre had grown vastly due to articles, interviews and other media focused on it. Brands such as W Magazine were posting videos with household names like Cara Delevingne or Aubrey Plaza, who were interviewed while creating ASMR. However, Twitter was the final push that the genre needed to be in the spotlight.
pictured below, Angelica and Life with Mak created into popular Twitter memes:
Memes started to be created about ASMRtists, and by 2018, they were going viral with people joking about them in casual conversation. Typically, Internet genres and phenomenons that are made into memes are mocked heavily and cast off as “ridiculous” or “dumb”, thus why they were made into a joke.
Yet, after the memes created about ASMR, the topic didn’t become even more taboo — the opposite happened. The amount of ASMRtists was growing and the stigma surrounding the videos seemed to become less harsh. Personally, a year ago, I would’ve never felt comfortable enough to openly discuss ASMR or even create my own video for class, but because of the spotlight put on it and memes created, it surprisingly became socially acceptable.
A broad reach of digital media platforms were able to create a community around such an unique feeling, and foster its growth within a decade — it’s not a reach to state that without these forms of media, the ASMR genre would not exist today. The exponential growth of ASMR proves the power of modern media platforms and how each one can work together to create a worldwide sensation such as this one.
Without digital media, plenty of humans would’ve been sitting around tapping on objects and feeling isolated; media has a way of ensuring humans that they’re not ever alone — someone’s always there to whisper in their ear. Literally.
Gallagher, Rob. “Eliciting Euphoria Online: The Aesthetics of ‘ASMR’ Video Culture.” Film Criticism, vol. 40, no. 2, 2016, doi:10.3998/fc.13761232.0040.202.
Cline, John. “What Is ASMR and Why Are People Watching These Videos?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleepless-in-america/201809/what-is-asmr-and-why-are-people-watching-these-videos.
Long, Rebecca. “Why Are Whispering Videos so Popular on YouTube? The Quiet World of
ASMR.” Medium, Series of the Week, 9 Nov. 2017,
Richard, Craig. “History of ASMR.” ASMR University, 14 Apr. 2018, asmruniversity.com/history-of-asmr/.