Words by Tytti Kurula

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has taken the internet by storm. Specific audio or visual triggers like nail tapping, whispering, hair brushing or hand movements can cause some people ‘tingles’ – a relaxing, warm feeling spreading from the crown of the head throughout the body. The feeling is similar to someone gently playing with your hair or stroking your back. People watch ASMR videos to relax, relieve stress or sleep better.

ASMR is not a new phenomenon, but its popularity has grown significantly due to the rise of social media platforms like Youtube. There are currently more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube and the most popular of these have tens of millions of views. Besides whispering and tapping into a microphone, some creators take the role-play approach, simulating a doctor’s office, hair salon or even space travel. 

Not much research currently exists regarding the benefits of this phenomenon, but according to a recent study from the University of Sheffield, watching ASMR videos resulted in lower heart rates among those participants who experienced the feeling. They also reported an increase of positive feelings and relaxation.

Many brands are embracing the trend: last year IKEA released a 25-minute-long ad for dorm room solutions made as an ASMR video and W Magazine has a series of ASMR videos featuring numerous celebrities. Netflix recently released the docuseries “Follow This” by BuzzFeed and the first episode features the ASMR phenomenon.

Why has ASMR grown so widely popular? And what does that popularity say about us? A look into Google trends shows that people tend to watch these videos before bedtime, not only to relax, but also to distract themselves from negative thoughts or feelings.

Growing stress levels and the constant alertness of modern society keep millions of people from sleeping. ASMR offers one possible solution to the problem. The most viewed ASMR artists are females whose videos deliver tranquil repetition with no sudden surprises – suitable for the tumultuous and hard to predict world where people are looking for a sense of safety.

Many aspects of our lives becoming digitized are causing us to long for personal human connections. As the amount of screens, communication apps and virtual reality solutions around us increase, we are left with less and less physical contact with our environment and with other people. With the illusion of human contact that ASMR offers, it is almost as if the internet is giving us back something it took from us.

Photo by Daria Litvinova on Unsplash
Photo by Daria Litvinova on Unsplash

In Dezeen and Google’s “Soft Futures” talk during Milan design week in April, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort predicted that in the future all designed matter will have more and more tactility as a result of the continued increase of screens and devices controlled by sound. As our fingers no longer need to touch and hold to operate technology, we will continue to crave sensorial experiences. Maybe the tapping, scratching and finger fluttering present in many ASMR videos will continue to give some of us the much needed tactile stimuli of a digital world.