It feels good, it’s tingly, it’s free, and it can soothe you to sleep. A new perceptual phenomenon not previously documented by science is being pursued and cultivated among online communities and has been slowly recognized by mainstream media.
It’s known as ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—a tingling sensation fanning out from the scalp that is triggered by specific sounds, touches, or sights that brings intense feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Olivia Kissper, Corrina @ ASMR Psychetruth, Bluewhisper, Soft Anna, Accidentally Graceful, The ASMR Gamer, Donna ASMR, Brittany ASMR, Dana Park, Cosmic Tingles, Tony Bomboni, WhisperAudios, Jellybean Green ASMR, Miss ASMR, Massage ASMR, Pigsbum53, Kiwiwhispers ASMR, WhispersRed ASMR, and Fairy Char ASMR.
ASMR: the online phenomenon and the science
Not everybody experiences it, but for those who do, ASMR can be wonderfully pleasurable. For most, the sensation happens spontaneously and began in childhood. Perhaps they experienced “the tingles” when a friend gently brushed their arm, when a teacher whispered into their ear, or when a hairdresser stroked their curls.
For those receptive to ASMR, the sensation brings such peace and relaxation that many have sought to replicate it using certain triggers.
What kind of ASMR techniques get you all tingly?
Through online media, ASMR triggers are being curated in videos and channels developed by dedicated artists. These “ASMRtists” produce specialized content featuring visual and audio stimuli designed to induce the pleasurable tingles of ASMR.
Many artists use high-tech binaural recording equipment, which creates separate sound frequencies going into each ear of a listener’s headphones, giving the illusion that the listener is present in the same room as the sounds themselves.
YouTube videos intended to induce ASMR have garnered millions of views, and the creators have strong followings. While ASMR has been validated by the large community that experiences and pursues it, validation in science is just beginning to catch up.
In 2015, two psychologists from Swansea University (UK) produced the first published research on ASMR. Nick Davis and Emma Barratt interviewed almost 500 people about their ASMR experiences, identified common triggers, and found that ASMR temporarily improves symptoms of depression and chronic pain.
The study concluded that ASMR “warrants further investigation as a potential therapeutic measure similar to that of meditation and mindfulness.”
Here at Factorialist, we’ve conducted our own concise survey on ASMR triggers. We reached out to the community of YouTube artists who specialize in this field, asking them:
The artists who weighed in on this ASMR conversation come from a spectrum of cultural and professional backgrounds. While some are new to the production of ASMR videos and others have been working in this realm for years, all artists have strong subscriber followings.
After receiving everyone’s input we saw strong commonalities among responses. There were three separate themes that artists generally fell into, those who expressed support for either classic techniques, psychological ones, and none at all.
Here are their uncut responses:
Classic ASMR Techniques
The responses from my viewers regarding the most intense ASMR response vary as greatly as people’s taste in food. My best guess is that it is the combination of close personal attention, sounds, calm voice and authentic presence. Though some of my most popular videos include simple hair brushing or watching other person having their hair brushed.”
It’s really difficult to narrow it down to one sound (trigger) because everyone is different! Some of the most requested sounds are whispering, tapping, mouth sounds and cupping. However there are other viewers who strongly dislike some of those sounds.
If I had to pick one that seems most popular I might have to say Mouth Sounds as those videos get a lot of comments & views. However they are also one of the most-hated sounds!! I think the technique may be more important than the sound itself— moving from “ear to ear” at just the right pace so the binaural effect is most relaxing; using a delicate, gentle touch and sharing the compassionate side of my personality that truly hopes to help people relax and feel at peace.”
I would say some of the best triggers involve a touch of subtlety: quiet whispers, a crinkly shirt, and surgical gloves. These are some triggers that my subscribers have enjoyed, and I personally enjoy as well.
Additionally, I believe context helps, which is why any type of role play is very effective. One cannot say which sound is the best because everyone is different in what they like. However, I believe that videos which are quiet, calm, slow, and long produce the best tingles and most relaxing atmosphere for both viewer and creator.”
Although my channel on YouTube is conducted in Polish, it attracts the attention of the audience mainly from overseas. I get a lot of positive comments about the sound of my native language. This allows me to believe that the biggest trigger for my viewers is Polish and it’s rustling sound. I am convinced that the lack of knowledge of a foreign language allows them not to focus on the importance of the words, but on the sounds. Thanks to that, they can completely turn off their brains and fully relax.
In addition, my viewers really like tapping and “typy, typy” – a verbal sound. My audience also relaxes with personal attention, eye contact, and gentle hand movements.”
What I’ve found viewers to enjoy the most in my videos is the element of storytelling. I love to tell short stories and fairy tales in a gentle voice, because it combines ASMR with comfort and nostalgia for a simpler time in childhood when storytime was a positive association, often happening just before bedtime. That sense of warmth and comfort combined with the deeply relaxing feeling ASMR invokes, is what I think brings a lot of people back to listen to the stories I read again and again.”
In order to adequately address the question, I am going to gauge my audience’s favorite triggers by using the assumption that they would be featured in my most popular videos. The two most popular categories of videos are role plays and sound/trigger assortments.
I would argue that the most brain tingle inducing triggers would either be whispering (close up and binaural) or mouth sounds. Role plays are particularly popular, I believe, because of the combination of whispering but also the immersion of the scenario. The amalgamation of audio and story is conducive for a relaxing environment and thus helps create greater tingles.”
My channel focuses on objects being handled or just classic ASMR triggers like tapping or scratching. That’s what people seem to like about my channel, just simple, “raw” ASMR sound triggers, no role plays or personal attention videos.
Unlike a lot of other ASMR content creators I don’t show my face, so my viewers can fully focus on the object or the whispering in the videos or just close their eyes and doze off to sleep without missing much.
Role plays and personal attention videos seem to be more popular in general, but there definitely is also an audience for really basic videos, since ASMR is a very individual phenomenon. Unfortunately not every video works for everyone, it often takes a while until you find a video or a content creator that triggers you.”
That’s kind of a tricky question, because it seems that my followers have varied preferences across the board in terms of triggers! However, if I were to narrow it down to a few, I’d say that mouth sounds (like tongue clicking) are highly preferred, along with direct ear stimulation sounds (ear cupping/simulated ear cleaning), and tapping/sticky finger sounds on the doughnut clutch, which is a specific wallet that I’ve featured on my channel; my viewers love the sound of it!!
I’ve also had quite a lot of people comment on my lullaby technique and how it not only tingles them but also elicits a frisson type of response, but I would consider that rather secondary and more niche. Some favorite triggers of my viewers seem to be microphone scratching, ear cleaning or touching, tapping, crinkles and unboxing sounds.”
I got the most brain tingling response from my subscribers when I mix my ear to ear whisper with personal attention in my video.
The theme of the video could be anything. It could be role play, rambling, or simple positive affirmations. I get most positive responses related tingles when I get close to the camera and do close-up whisper (I think what makes the whisper best trigger is not only the voice but also the mouth sounds a person make while whispering. But people have different opinions about this).
P.S: To add some more, in Korea, ear cleaning is one of the most popular themes in ASMR videos. So, I get most views from ear cleaning role play videos to be honest. But, I think I got better responses (by comments) related to tingles from my follower from what I told you above aside from the views and watching time.”
Over the past 3 years I’ve tried and tested many different triggers in my videos. The ones that seem to resonate the most with my viewers, despite not being the highest viewed videos, are my AMSR work/study videos.
These videos simulate being close to another person while they are either working or studying in a library. These particular videos offer all of the sounds you’d hear if you were working alongside someone else as well as a feeling of not being alone but without any of the distractions of them talking to you. I find that most of my viewers like to put these types of videos on in the background when they are studying or writing an essay as it helps them to concentrate.”
Psychological ASMR Techniques: Setting off sparks in your mind
Your childhood experiences may influence your preference in ASMR triggers. That’s because ASMR is set off by psychological factors too: the feeling of intimacy, closeness, comfort, and connection. Many artists report that a nurturing, genuine atmosphere triggers ASMR.
Everyone has their own unique ASMR triggers based on the stimuli from the experiences in their life. What can be one person’s favorite sound or trigger can be someone else’s least favorite sound in the world.
But what I’ve noticed is that the majority of people enjoy up close soft speaking or up close whispering the most. It gives you a sense of closeness and connection with the video creator. That psychological sensation is the most common trigger for ASMR.”
Although a difficult one to answer, since there are many ‘triggers’ that elicit tingling responses to my audience… I will have to choose at least one. My viewers love when I brush their face or hair with something, even if it’s just using my hands… They love the personal attention because they crave that ‘touch’ that not many people can receive on a day to day basis. Any time I have done a massage video, people often describe feeling like they are being touched as well after watching massage videos for a while.
And for some reason, my facial features, and just the fact that I upload a video, gives them tingles automatically. I have read that they expect to receive loads of ASMR, and feel ASMR even before they start the video. People have often described feeling tingles from again, my hands… Just brushing them together, rubbing my fingertips against the microphones, and caressing them gently over the camera lens…”
To me ASMR is incredibly different for everyone. What one person may deem a “trigger” causes another person to have misophonia, or a sudden and strong dislike for the sound.
But as I have been working on my channel over this past year, I have found that the most commonly accepted and ‘liked’ technique and sound, is ear to ear whispering, or binaural speaking.
The closeness and proximity to the microphone really triggers a positive response in most people, and they have said that they feel the most tingles when they watch those types of videos that I produce.
I believe that getting very close to someone and whispering in their ear is not an everyday occurrence, so it triggers not only an ASMR response, but a psychological and physical response too.
Whispering and speaking softly near to someone indicates a mutual trust and closeness to a person. So this is why I believe that this works the best for my viewers. Everyone wants to feel important and loved, and this is the emotion that is triggered when I whisper close to the viewer. Especially those viewers who may have experienced trauma or suffer from anxiety and depression. They just want a friend to listen to and be supportive towards them. This is why I believe ASMR can be so much more than just a “fetish” or “niche” as it is at the moment.
I believe that with more research and scientific exploration, ASMR can be a form of alternative therapy or treatment for those who suffer from anxiety, depression or insomnia.”
The technique I use that my viewers most respond to is personal attention. Whether they’re watching a video in which they can imagine they’re receiving an ear exam, or a new age reiki treatment, or some caring attention from a concerned friend, my viewers tell me that my videos make them feel safe and cared for.
I’ve noticed that some people—especially those who don’t experience ASMR—find these kind of “role play” videos to be bizarre and uncomfortable, and I think that points to a larger problem in our society in which creativity and imagination are valued traits in adults, but playing pretend is often considered sad or juvenile.
As children, games of pretend enriched our ability to think creatively and empathetically, and I love the idea of ASMR videos helping people to dust off and utilize that imaginative tool box again as adults.”
I’m not focusing much on sounds in my videos because from the comments I receive I see that what attracts people the most is the atmosphere of warmth and comfort that I try to create for them. You see, It’s a lot more than just sounds or simply whispering. Making people feel that the one who whispers in their ears when they put headphones on cares for them, like a dear friend, is the most important thing. That’s why I have many hypnosis, reiki and spa videos.
In ASMR every movement matters because very often tingles are not even connected to any sounds, they are visual. People often tell me how my hand movements or the way I smiled made them all tingly and comforted. 🙂
I’m multilingual and make videos in three languages, surprisingly when I put up a French video, for example, a lot of my English speaking subscribers will comment on how the sound of a foreign language relaxes them. So my “Tingle Heaven Language” video is one of the most popular on the channel.”
The Best ASMR Technique: No technique at all
Some say the best ASMR experiences are unintentional, and there’s no formulaic way to trigger ASMR. Still others mention that sympathizing with the viewers’ needs and building a connection with viewers is the key to triggering ASMR.
The technique that triggers ASMR the most would be no technique. It must be a genuine intention of whatever it is you’re doing.
Yes there is a combination of sounds, movements and visual stimulus that has a higher % for people to experience ASMR but without genuine intention to relax the viewer it will not work as well.
So the answer is genuine intention, the best ASMR is always unintentional ASMR.”
I think, when making videos (which I haven’t done for a while since my microphone has broke), I think about what I would like to hear or see in a video made by my favourite artists. Sometimes a video that is too soothing or calming seems to have the reverse effect on me: I get agitated and anxious.
I do enjoy some overly calming videos, but those kinds of videos are best watched when I’m in a chaotic setting like at school library or somewhere open spaced; however, when I’m in my bed and trying to relax after a long day, I normally like watching videos that seem more natural. Not too whisper like, not too dim of a lighting, and not too slow talked. I think it’s extremely helpful that I watch ASMR videos and benefit from them myself because it really helps me understand the content of what people may want to see.
There seems to be an assumption that role-play videos receive the most response, but I disagree. Some of my top videos are just me being genuine and showing objects and calmly but naturally describing them and explaining about them. I think people just like the nurturing aspect of the videos. It’s calming and helps you unwind.
I find a lot of videos are similar to visualization meditations that are used in Dialetical Behavioural Therapy: the calm voice, the visual aspect of being somewhere that isn’t chaotic, etc. Knowing that, I think I just try to emulate that kind of atmosphere as much as possible.”
I’m classically a whisperer, and I find that’s what my listeners still enjoy most and what I predominantly incorporate into my videos. I find they also like my “effect” videos – panning/binaural audio to simulate a 3D effect, reverb and echo, layers, etc – extra little effects that add an unrealistic and away-from-the-norm dimension to expected audio.
Trickery of the brain helps elicit tingles. Mouth sounds are also a big trigger – swallowing, and lips and tongue sounds while talking. I find it isn’t necessarily just about eliciting brain tingles. People say how much they enjoy coming back to listen to a familiar voice and to relax or unwind from regular life.”
Out of all the responses on my channel regarding triggers, my voice seems to be the most popular. I often use sounds, hand movements and other actions which are well received as a trigger but it is always important to include my voice over the top.
Sometimes I will whisper and sometimes use a soft spoken voice but as long as I say something it helps my viewers to relax. Myself and the community of loving people on the channel have a special connection so it is important for me to be able to convey my feelings through the videos. Our voice can be a window to the soul and I hope for mine to be wide open.”
I personally feel that the best trigger for my followers is the reception of personal attention and good vibrations. It’s that brain melting, muscle releasing energy that’s elicited through gentle human interaction, on or off camera.
In person, when you are getting a massage, you are called the receiver. The ones who are more open to receiving often experience a more positive massage. I think the more open you are to the invisible energy exchange the more receptive you will be to the relaxing and tingly experience that is ASMR.”
What If I Don’t Experience ASMR?
Now that we know how wonderful ASMR can be, what’s in it for those who don’t get the special tingles?
Although the tingling sensation may not come for you, ASMR content offers benefits to everyone as a free, accessible, drug-free option for comfort and relaxation. Whether or not your head buzzes, you may still enjoy the soothing sounds of seashells, marbles, and softly turning pages. Whispered voices and steady gazes may help you unwind and bring you to a more rested state of mind.
ASMR videos create an alternate space—an audiovisual sanctum perhaps vastly different from the cacophony of everyday life. In this quiet space, someone speaks gently to you, looks you in the eye, and “touches” you through sounds.
It may be that ASMR videos speak to a deeper need for human intimacy or rest in a busy world. But if you love the comfort of soft sounds and flowing words that carry no demands, the world of ASMR may hold some treasure for you.