Trendy Tingles: The World of ASMR

A strange, but “satisfying” new fad has hit YouTube and is making viral history


Senior Kendal Cooper-Pitts watches her favorite ASMR YouTuber, SAS-ASMR, eat candied strawberries, figs, and other fruits.

Kelly Titus, Features Editor

Fast tapping, whispers, finger flutters and more are just some of the ways ASMR YouTubers do their job – to give their audience a full body, relaxing sensation that has reached viral status.

How It All Began

Pop culture is ever changing, and with that comes new fads the Internet goes crazy over. This one in specific, ASMR, is a type of video YouTube creators make to allow viewers to sleep, relax, help study, etc. The acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and is defined by as “a calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation. This tingle is said to originate in a person’s head and spread to the spine (and sometimes the limbs) in response to stimulation.”

The first recorded event of someone bringing ASMR to the Internet was in 2007 when a user by the name okaywhatever posted a forum to Studyhealth titled “Weird sensation feels good”, according to ASMR University. Their post reads: “i get this sensation sometimes. there’s no real trigger for it. it just happens randomly. it’s been happening since i was a kid and i’m 21 now. some examples of what seems has caused it to happen before are as a child while watching a puppet show and when i was being read a story to. as a teenager when a classmate did me a favor and when a friend drew on the palm of my hand with markers. sometimes it happens for no reason at all that i can tell, though. i’ll just be sitting or whatever doing whatever and it happens. its like in my head and all over my body. if i get an itch when i’m experiencing the sensation i won’t scratch it cause the itch helps intensify it. i also like to trace my fingers along my skin because it feels good when experiencing the sensation. sometimes my eyes will water. when the sensation is over i will sometimes feel nauseous, but not that bad. just a slight hint of nausea. what is it?? i’m not complaining cause i love it, but i’m just wondering what it might be…help.”

“I agree with some parts of it, like the tingling of the scalp,” senior Kendal Cooper-Pitts, someone who enjoys ASMR triggers and videos, said. “It’s definitely a strange sensation, but like the person said, it’s satisfying.”

Someone replied back to the original post reporting they felt the same thing at random times as well, and the conversation eventually formed an online club of people, called “Society of Sensationalists” on Yahoo!, who experienced these weird sensations caused by random triggers, and wanted to discover why. Originally, many described and viewed it almost as a condition they needed to seek out doctors for. User brandedmusic66 said: “now that i know there are so many questions need to be answered lol. i wonder if there are doctors that can do tests on our brains. but it wouldn’t just stop there. we would also need psychologists as well. there are many things that need to be discovered here. i hope this advances from here on out!”

By 2009, the phenomenon finally hit YouTube with the user WhisperingLife. It was described as a whisper channel, where she made videos of her whispering instead of talking normally to a camera, and started it because she said she loved the sound of people whispering and wanted to make a channel for it. The phenomenon kept booming, from people starting entire blogs dedicated to this “Unknown Feeling”, and threads on almost any social media outlets being made, containing thousands of people trying to discover what exactly this was. Finally, in 2011, ASMR had its name clarified from a Reddit thread, according to ASMR University.

YouTube Takeover

ASMR on YouTube is in full effect. There are thousands of YouTubers who do ASMR, called specifically “ASMRtists”. After videos of people squeezing wet sponges and slime went viral on Instagram, the already existing ASMR community on YouTube blew up with more and more people discovering it daily.

“Social media is practically covered in these videos now,” junior Kimberly Caufield, an ASMR fan said. “No one really knew about them before they blew up, but now there is literally an ASMR video for everything, and a bunch of different accounts and channels dedicated to the trend popping up every day. It’s a new way for teens or adults who start a channel to make money, too, if they’re successful enough.”

Some of the most popular ASMRtists include SAS-ASMR, who has over four million subscribers, ASMR Darling, GentleWhispering ASMR, Gibi ASMR, and more.

“I love SAS-ASMR because her videos are always extremely relaxing and help me wind-down,” Cooper-Pitts said. “My favorite types of videos are of her eating. I don’t know why, but it’s really satisfying.”

Types of Videos

ASMR video genres can vary, but there’s a few basic categories that they can fall into: general triggers, visual triggers, casual role plays and eating videos.

General triggers are videos of a compilation of any triggers the ASMRtist so chooses. Those triggers can include tapping, light scratching, lid sounds (as in a lid on a container), soap carving, playing with slime, sponge squeezing, brushing the microphone with a makeup brush, inaudible whispers, teeth tapping, and trigger words (words that some viewers think are satisfying to hear, such as tingle, coconut, okay, stipple, etc). These videos are the most common and are viewed as the original source of ASMR content. These general videos can have both audible and visual triggers, but the more common ones tend to be audible.

“My favorite triggers are when a person will tap their nails on the microphone or use a makeup brush and gently brush over the mic,” freshman Jenna Stone said. “But my biggest trigger is slime. When someone squeezes slime that has a bunch of air bubbles in it and it makes a crunch noise, I always feel so relaxed.”

Visual trigger videos are, once again, a compilation of triggers, but this time without any noises. These triggers can be hand movements in front of the camera, light tracing (a soft light moving across the screen), face brushing (moving/stippling a makeup brush across the camera), tracing words across the screen, etc.

Eating videos, or “mukbangs”, are what they sound like: a video of someone eating and recording the sound of their chewing. The term mukbang comes from South Korea where the fad of eating in front of a camera for an audience was first done. Although many people find it gross and appalling, some find it enjoyable and relaxing. ASMRtists will typically buy a lot of food from a certain restaurant or fast food chain and eat in front of the camera for their viewers pleasure.

“I really like mukbangs because it makes me feel like I’m eating with that person rather than alone,” sophomore Ariel Gentry said.

And finally, role play videos. These types of videos are where the ASMRtist will put their viewer in a pretend situation and interact with them through ASMR. For example, there are haircut videos, where the YouTuber will pretend to be your hairdresser and use scissors and brushes to create tingle-inducing noises, or doing your makeup, where they use visual brush triggers and personal attention to give their audience relaxation.

Controversy Arises

However, recently ASMR has been criticized for being too sexual and making the younger ASMRtists sexualized, partly through these role play-style videos. A YouTuber by the name of PayMoneyWubby made a video titled “Kids doing ASMR is a problem” on October 14, 2018, where he explains the strangeness that surrounds younger ASMRtists, around the ages of 12, doing ASMR. He claims it to be “odd” that people enjoy watching a “12-year-old girl whisper in your ear and making mouth sounds to fall asleep”. The ASMRtist in particular he’s describing is Life with Mak, who has amassed over 1.2 million subscribers with her videos, and has also gone viral with some of her comedic ways to spread ASMR. She is under fire, though for being a preteen and making inappropriate role play videos such as her “sassy cop role play”, which although she and her fans claim are harmless and are just there to give relaxation, are also said to have very strong underlying sexual tones for a girl of her age.

“I think some people might just interpret the purpose of it wrong and might not fully understand what it’s supposed to do, which is to help people relieve stress and relax,” Stone said.

The allegations of sexualization and the idea that people enjoy watching others whisper is something ASMR haters are shaming viewers for. Many fans typically don’t like to admit they watch these videos – almost like it’s a bad, shameful habit.

“I mean, I watch ASMR videos and I still make fun of them, but not to put anyone who watches them down, I just jokingly suggest weird or funny whispers as ASMR, which is what most people do when they joke about this stuff,” Caufield said.

In general, people usually dislike the trend because the sounds and atmosphere it creates makes them uncomfortable. These people, in the ASMR community, tend to be referred to as “tingle-immune”.

“I honestly think it’s gross,” junior Kamden Brown said. “I don’t think it’s necessary to spend the free time I have on listening to other people eat things with a microphone by their mouth.”

Despite these few hiccups, though, the community is generally viewed as a very peaceful, calm, and unproblematic place to spend your YouTube time on.

“In my opinion, it’s becoming so popular because lots of people experience stress in their life and watching/listening to ASMR is a way to relieve that,” Stone said. “It’s harmless and fun for the people who enjoy it, and I feel that people shouldn’t judge others for something that doesn’t affect them.”