ASMR triggers a growing community of creators and listeners


Maddie Leigh

Maddie Leigh, an ASMR creator of two years, creates a video using a flashlight as a prop. “[When creating a video], I use a ring light and try to change my background every couple of months,” Leigh said. “I sit down and make the video, and I always improvise. I don’t use scripts, I just [keep in mind] what props I’m using for what.”

Tap. Tap. Tap. Brush. Brush. Brush. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

Along with all those words being onomatopoeias, they share another thing in common: they can all be used to trigger autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). 

ASMR is a relaxing sensation that begins on the scalp and moves down the body. Also known as a “brain massage,” it is triggered by peaceful sights and sounds such as whispering, tapping, brushing, and more.

ASMR triggers the same major brain regions that get activated during frisson, which is a psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and visual stimuli, often resulting in a pleasurable state of mind. Some examples of frisson include the chills one gets when listening to a great piece of music, or the feeling of being moved by a scene in a movie.

Many describe the feeling of ASMR as “tingles” that run through the back of their head and spine. ASMR is famous for being a deeply relaxing feeling and is especially sought after when trying to calm down or fall asleep.

There are many different things that can trigger ASMR, such as tapping, eating, whispering, and more. These are referred to as “triggers” in the ASMR community.

“[ASMR] is a good way to wind down and is soothing,” said Emily Hamanaka, a sophomore at Carlmont High School. “It can be good for mental health and provides a creative outlet to [its] creators.”

ASMR was first discovered in 2007 when a woman with the username of “okaywhatever” recounted her experience of ASMR sensations in an online health discussion forum.

It was coined three years later, in 2010, by Jennifer Allen.

Allen was also the one to suggest that the feeling be called “autonomous sensory meridian response.”

Despite its very recent addition to the Internet scene, ASMR has quickly gained popularity. Studies show that people in every continent (most commonly in North America) watch ASMR. There are over 5 million ASMR videos on YouTube, with the most popular one amassing 16 million views. 

However, studies have also shown that not everyone can get ASMR; only between 20% and 70% of the world can. Out of those who can, more sensitive individuals can experience both a reduction in heart rate and an increase in skin conductance response when listening to ASMR.

ASMR Statistics by Ujala Chauhan

“Certain videos give me ASMR, and I enjoy it,” Hamanaka said. “It’s satisfying to listen to, and it helps me relax. My favorite trigger is eating honey; it’s nice to listen to and gives me little tingles in my brain.”

ASMR’s recent growth is significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When everyone was stuck inside, more people turned to creating ASMR, as well as listening to it.

One example of such is Maddie Leigh, who decided to try her hand at creating ASMR in March of 2020.

“I was extremely bored and interested in ASMR, so I started my channel posting three times a week,” Leigh said. “I started with no microphone and a camera, and my videos did not look very good back then.”

However, over two years of creating ASMR and being in the ASMR community has helped Leigh not only create better videos and gain millions of followers across her Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube platforms but grow as a person as well.

“I start [the process of making a video] by creating my video idea in my head, then I gather my props and set up my space to record; I have to plug in my microphone and put my phone on the tripod,” Leigh said. “I always knew since I was a kid that I would be a content creator. Being this ASMR content creator with so many young lives watching my videos pushes me to inspire and truly think about what message ‘MaddieLeighASMR’ is going to send to others; I want to spread happiness, smiles, love, and humor!”

ASMR is also proven to aid those with ADHDSome say it helps them calm down and work more efficiently, while others say it helps them destress.

Christian Ribeiro, another ASMR creator, says he first got into ASMR for that reason.

“As someone with ADHD, ASMR [has] helped me relax since I was 10 years old,” Ribeiro said. “I found ASMR because I had trouble sleeping [and] calming down.”

Despite the many things already known about ASMR, it is still a very new subject and, as such, still being researched. However, it has already attracted millions of fans and continues to do so every day.

“A lot of people don’t watch ASMR for the cringe factor; they just think it’s so weird and sexual when it’s actually not,” Leigh said. “ASMR is in the very beginning stage of existing […] so people don’t understand it and what it’s used for yet, but I think soon, ASMR will really permeate the YouTube community with the more ASMR creators there are.”