A.S.M.R. Videos Give People the Tingles (No, Not That Way)

In the popular videos, the artists — mostly women — whisper, use props and role-play to help viewers feel calm. It’s not about sex, research suggests.

Comments: 48

  1. A.S.M.R is indeed a genuine nonsexual phenomenon. It is a manifestation of a certain kind of synesthesia, the brain occurrence where stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway. Or, one might refer to it as “crossed wires” in the brain. There are various types of synesthesia, the most common being grapheme-color. This is where numbers or letters are perceived as having different colors. A.S.M.R represents the less common auditory-tactile synesthesia. I can attest to A.S.M.R’s non-sexual authenticity because I have auditory-tactile synesthesia. While certain sounds give me “brain tingles,” the whispering in A.S.M.R videos causes pain and I can’t watch them. Likewise, while my nightclub companion might marvel at a female soprano hitting the high notes in a quietly beautiful song, I want to crawl under the table in discomfort. Having experienced A-T synesthesia my whole life, I was relieved when I was able to put a label on it and know that it wasn't just me being weird.

  2. @Amy R. Sounds like you're somewhere on the autism spectrum. I hate loud noises, like garbage trucks, etc. Gives me a flash of irrational anger.

  3. @Amy R. I'm glad I'm not the only person who hates ASMR. Watching/listening to this kind of video puts me on edge. It's like nails on a chalkboard; it almost hurts to listen to.

  4. From a psychological standpoint, the A.S.M.R. videos seem to be related to intimacy. Or, more accurately, they seem to reproduce the normal sensations we have in intimate relationships. For example, the role playing activities of whispering and grooming essentially enact fantasies about intimacy. Many people associate intimacy with sex, but in this case the suggestion only appears as a result of the intimacy fantasy. In depth psychology this is sometimes approached using a concept called 'transference' (often the memory of a parent that is transferred to another person, such as a spouse). That is to say, it reminds us of past intimate relationships that we find pleasing. Since A.S.M.R. appears to be a new phenomenon brought about by the internet, one conclusion is that it's a psychological response to the isolation many people feel at their computers or phones.

  5. @W The only link between the internet and ASMR is the internet's ability to connect those with similar experiences (thus empowering the community). In other words, it's easier to ask "does anybody else feel this weird thing when X happens?" behind a computer screen than it is in person. Here we are today. To be clear, though: I can point to junior kindergarten as my earliest memory of ASMR.

  6. @kathy The earliest reference that I've found to 'A.S.M.R.' was an article written by a woman named Jennifer Allen in 2010...nine (9) years ago. Under my hypothesis the psychology of the transference (and the emotions it produces) is as old as the human species. But the term 'A.S.M.R.' never appeared until about fifteen (15) years after the widespread adoption of the internet. Also, I've never seen anything that resembles the A.S.M.R. videos in archival films. The phenomenon seems to be new and, given its popularity, there is something new going on here.

  7. @W It's not the videos, it's the specific kinds of sound that trigger the tingles in most people who experience ASMR. It's always sibilant sounds (whispering, crinkling paper, etc). This strongly points to a physiological cause, e.g. the auditory neurons that get triggered by such sounds crossing with neurons that produce the tingles. I have tactile ASMR--the tingles start when i'm lightly touched on my upper back or the back of my neck, and I've had this all my life, including pre-internet. So the name ASMR is new, but people experiencing this is not.

  8. I finally have a name and a reasonable description for something I have experienced since at least as long as I've been an adult. My reaction is exactly that very pleasant tingle, and it could be triggered by someone whispering in the library, or the scratch of a pencil on paper, etc. I have found that I no longer really get the reaction (I'm 70) and haven't for some time. There's nothing the least bit erotic about it; there are other bodily pleasures!

  9. I accidentally discovered the “sleep with me” podcast, which has significantly helped with insomnia. I find it incredible. I wonder if AMSR is why it works

  10. I have experienced these sensations since I was a little boy, just from being close to my mother, having my haircut or even when someone was describing or performing an activity in a calm and measured way. I have always tried to describe it as "the womb feeling". It was never sexual. The YouTube phenomena has been a revelation. I never realized that there were so few of us blessed to experience this gift.

  11. I concur with the others - the ASMR sensation is completely non-sexual. I have had the sensation since first grade and for some time used a "self-hypnosis" tape, where the male speaker had a soothing voice, to initiate ASMR. Now, of course, there is no lack of ASMR material online! My favorite "ASMRtist" on YouTube is Maria, aka GentleWhispering. One thing I've noticed about ASMR, though, since I started using recordings to initiate the experience, is that there is a definite "tolerance effect" where having ASMR experiences too frequently leads to the inability to experience ASMR. So, as with all pleasant experiences, there is no truly free ride.

  12. I'm enjoying the variety of auditory art forms referenced here, while not totally buying into all of the ASMR memes. (Although . . . I did find the Michelob Ultra commercial the most memorable 60 seconds of Super Bowl 2019.) Once again demonstrating: If you want someone to listen, just whisper. Corollary note re Mr. Mueller and associates: "Real power moves quietly." Meanwhile . . . we tingle with anticipation.

  13. If it is completely bereft of a sexual element then the majority of successful ASMR producers would not be nice looking young women with makeup. (There are some men in this trade.) The girls I saw on these videos were beautiful. It might be possible for an asexual robot to induce the tingle, or a white noise machine used by insomniacs. But in the main ASMR is some sort of interpersonal fetish that combines textured sound with graphic video. These videos have the tone of porn, without nudity or genitalia. They are definitely sensuous. Compared to most other preoccupations, ASMR appears to be both gratifying and innocuous. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the viewers are callow lads or lonely hearts looking for an interpersonal connection. These girls also seem to possess a subdued temerity, as if to tacitly say, "I am going to get to your amygdala, and I will not be removing my pants."

  14. Why does it even matter if it is sexual or not? The only reason I can see is that since most of the people involved are female, and feminists have long crusaded against women being seen as sexual in any way (unless it's as lesbians of course), there seems to be a very vigorous push to be sure it won't be labeled as sexual. The feminist code of conduct they are trying to enforce on everyone is once again coming back to bite them. In response, they are doing rhetorical gymnastics to get around the trap they've set for themselves, with the feminist NYTimes, like always, there to lead the way.

  15. Seriously? A lot easier to see how the videos included here may have little to do with sex, the Michelob Ultra commercial with the actress Zoë Kravitz not so much, especially as her shirt clings to just one shoulder, defying Newton's law of universal gravitation by not falling off, as she whispers, taps, and yes strokes that beer bottle until she makes a whole lot of foam comes out. The commercial closes with Zoë Kravitz looking directly at the viewer and then batting her eyelashes as the closing line comes across the screen, "Beer In Its Organic Form." One of the foundations of all advertising is that sex sells, which is why it is seems almost ridiculous to read the phrase accompanying this commercial as anything other than "Beer In Its Orgasmic Form."

  16. Hmmmmm. I'm reading what others have written but, I've got to tell you, it still seems very strange to me. Is it old fashioned of me to want to understand what people say when they are talking?

  17. Appears that a whole lot of people need a life. Jeeze talk about a loss of individual competence. Can't even find a glow without going to UTube! Life, if you look and listen, is filled with natural at-hand, at-ear sources of ASMR glow.

  18. @operadog yes, but there not always there when you're trying to fall asleep at night

  19. @kathy But what is there at bedtime, depending on weather, is the breeze in the trees, the patter of rain on the roof, the owl in the brush, the light snore of my old Lab or my old wife.

  20. After reading about this on a number of blogs aimed at people who are not as old as I am, I went on some of the ASMR websites and listened to whispering women eat macarons and chew other crunchy things near microphones. Mindboggling. I can't stand listening to people chew loudly in real life, and somewhere on this planet thousands [millions?] of sensory-deprived people are listening to recordings of humans chewing? Siri: Chew some popcorn for me? Alexa, play that noise that old guys make when there is something stuck in their teeth. Satan is working full time on this.

  21. @Michael c ASMR isn't just eating and mouth sounds! I don't like those sounds either but I love ASMR. But if you don't get the feeling it is meant to induce it must be difficult to understand it. Maybe be a bit less dismissive?

  22. @Ada Have someone who loves you scratch your back or rub your head. You don’t even need a smartphone.

  23. "And it has nothing to do with sex." Uh-huh. "Unless you want it to." My initial reaction to the examples took no reflection at all.

  24. @Mike Holloway Everyday, I listen to an old guy who collects fountain pens and builds toy models. The examples provided by the NYT were cherry-picked to include the topic of sex. That was their choice, and not representative.

  25. @Mike Holloway thanks for this comment. Always great when people don’t reflect and then just speak. A real valuable addition to the conversation.

  26. ASMR in itself might not be inherently sexual, but you will never convince me that most of it is not intended to satisfy some sort of kink. The internet is full of people desperate for an attractive woman to whisper into their ears; these ASMRtists (you're welcome for that pun!) are just meeting that need.

  27. @Nick this is as ignorant a comment on ASMR as you’ll find. And do you really think you came up with ASMRtist?

  28. @Nick yeah, you invented that pun. (eye-roll) who cares if there are people who get off on it? Its remarkable how so many people either just heard about it and want to write in to say "Oh, YES it is!" or who didn't just hear about it and seem to be convinced that it is because they seem to know something about "most of it". Fan are we, Nick?

  29. @Nick I'm a straight woman and watch lots of these videos. I think the people who sexualize it just assume that anything featuring attractive women doing anything at all must be sexual. I also assume that those assuming are often men.

  30. When I first heard about ASMR, I scoffed and sneered as one does in the social media age. And then I listened to a couple of videos with my headphones on. It was tingly, relaxing, and incredibly calming, and I was reminded, yet again, not to prejudge something I don't understand. Of course it's not for everyone, and of course the pornography industry will figure out how to make a lot of money from it. But that's a whole other issue. For me and millions of others, ASMR is a wonderful discovery. Don't knock it -- try it!

  31. Having listened to ASMR when it was starting out (most of those artists no longer perform or moved on), it is more like hypnosis than anything sexual. It is a relaxing, focused voice that with some background music/effects, can lull you to relax and sleep. Anything else and the viewer is implying it. Oh, yes, there are some ASMR folks that take it to a sexual level, but that is not the majority of the community. Sadly, many of the decent ASMR performers have left because of trolls or stalkers. There was one in France that did ASMR in French, and a year later, gone. No trace. Some investigating led to her pulling out of the area because of harassing men bent on claiming her deviant (she was not, and never showed her entire face or any nudity). One thing I can say is that I no longer am affected by ASMR. You can get numb to its affect. Even stopping for months, returning had no more effect. (some are affected, such as by ear noises, while others are affected by whispers or repetitive sounding spoken words, ... to each something different.). I wish to thank those still performing (WhispersRed, GentleWhispering, etc.).

  32. I don't get ASMR - it makes me nervous and nauseous, like a metal rake scraping a chalkboard.

  33. @F Gordon I listen to ASMR everyday. But I respond to much of what's out there the way you describe. Honestly, most of it grosses my out. I'm not sure the producers of it always understand it.

  34. Almost everything on this article's list of ASMR triggers is the opposite of relaxing for me---on the contrary, I find the sounds listed close to unbearable. Takes all kinds. (Tip for folks like me: a medium dose of the cheap drug amitriptyline improves my tolerance of noises a lot.)

  35. I guess I’m not in the 20% and really don’t understand this phenomenon. My tween daughter recently showed me one of these videos. So the suggestion that this is sexual is fairly troubling. She and her brother think it’s funny and weird.

  36. @Exile In It's so depressing that this article immediately linked ASMR to sex, because it is NOT sexual! A lot of people use it to reduce anxiety and stress in lots of different ways. There are also a lot of different kinds of ASMR. For example, I experience chronic pain in my back and hips, and I can't always afford to get a massage. Watching ASMR videos where someone is given a massage is really cathartic and relaxing, and usually there's an emphasis on sound. The idea that it WOULD be sexual really creeps me out, and I have never encountered that. I've been watching ASMR videos for years, and it's a very welcoming, warm community that is about comfort and self-care. Sometimes the videos might seem weird, like a roleplay where someone makes you dinner or a visit to a barber, haha, but for some people, they just enjoy it! But there's nothing nefarious about these things at all. I am actually really dismayed by the way this article opened, as if there's a natural or preexisting strong connection between this niche online subculture and sex. There absolutely isn't. The tongue in cheek references to terms and "wow, it isn't sexual, can you believe it?!" is something completely created through the narrative voice. I was very disappointed with this article tbh. :(

  37. It took me over 20 years to find out that this weird response I had to certain people's voices, the sounds of my roommates trying to be quiet in the morning, people whispering in foreign languages, my husband turning the pages of a book while I fell asleep, and, yes, lying on the couch and listening to Bob Ross after school every weekday afternoon, was a thing that many people experience, and that there was a trove of on-line videos waiting to relax me. I never watch them, only listen. They may as well be on Spotify, as far as I'm concerned. That so many of them feature beautiful young women with their perfectly made-up face in a camera just strikes me as a characteristic consistent with so many other aspects of our culture, particularly online content vying for the attention of eyeballs. This is hardly the first time pretty women are the face of the product. The fact that every publication or report on ASMR produced for the general public that I have read makes central to the piece the question of whether or not ASMR is fundamentally a sexual thing, speaks to how perversely puritanical we still are. And that sex, or the suggestion of it, sells journalism, too.

  38. It took me over 20 years to find out that this weird response I had to certain people's voices, the sounds of my roommates trying to be quiet in the morning, people whispering in foreign languages, my husband turning the pages of a book while I fell asleep, and, yes, lying on the couch and listening to Bob Ross after school every weekday afternoon, was a thing that many people experience, and that there was a trove of on-line videos waiting to relax me. I never watch them, only listen. They may as well be on Spotify, as far as I'm concerned. That so many of them feature beautiful young women with their perfectly made-up face in a camera just strikes me as a characteristic consistent with so many other aspects of our culture, particularly online content vying for the attention of eyeballs. This is hardly the first time pretty women are the face of the product. The fact that every publication or report on ASMR produced for the general public that I have read makes central to the piece the question of whether or not ASMR is fundamentally a sexual thing, speaks to how perversely puritanical we still are. And that sex, or the suggestion of it, sells journalism, too.

  39. Why would anyone think that a young gorgeous girl provocatively and slowly licking ears or anything else is sexual? Bunch of perverts watching YouTube. I'll take legal pot, music and Xanax anytime over watching boring crap like this.

  40. Yea, right, that's not sexually suggestive at all having an attractive woman speaking French softly into a fuzzy microphone.

  41. I don't really get ASMR tingles from ASMR videos, but they are fun to watch and I will do so hours on end. Taylor Darling is excellent and I discovered her totally by accident. In one video, she "makes breakfast for you". Just watching this young lady in her kitchen quietly moving about and cooking a full pancakes, bacon, and eggs breakfast is just so nice to watch. In particular, what makes her so addictive is the way she acts and her eyes pop go wide with excitement or happiness at times. I also like Blue Whisper, Crinkl Luvin', Sophie Michelle, and several others. All the medical ones fascinate me the most. I first got hooked on the cranial nerve exam and eye exam ones.

  42. I don't get it. It all sounds goofy to me. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

  43. Question: why do we care so much if we can categorize something as nominally "sexual" or not, and what does that even mean?

  44. I, too, have had ASMR since I was a kid. But I'm not aware of any triggers, and the videos don't have that effect on me. I can just make it happen; I think about it and do it. As for describing the sensation, it is like a tingling, I guess, or a head rush. But my own feeling is one of something inside me being turned inside out. There, that was a useless description that probably makes no sense to anyone except me.

  45. Regarding Dr. Eaton's remarks, why is someone imposing their "sexual prejudices" in interpreting in a sexual way videos featuring beautiful young women speaking softly and making caressing gestures with their faces very close to the camera? If the idea is to create a response through certain sounds, why is it even necessary for the person to appear in the video? Some of these videos could be seen as ostensibly at least partly sexual in nature. This is an example of an emerging trend by some feminists to want not only to regulate male BEHAVIOR, which is certainly legitimate and long overdue, but the male sexual response itself.

  46. She wasn’t interviewed it looks like but shout-out to the queen of ASMR, Maria of Gentle Whispering ASMR. She does so much good for a lot of people in the ASMR community, and I thought she deserved a mention. Thanks NYT for shedding a little more light on the topic!

  47. The ASMR industry (and YouTube) IS sexualizing the experience. While the meditative effect that ASMR has is real and non-sexual, most of those trying to profit off of it are sexualizing it. Popularity dilutes everything. And unfortunately for ASMR, it has been pulled into the cancerous plague of YouTube vanity selfie videos. Where some young (usually) girl wearing skimpy clothing and an insecure amount of makeup will over-consciously control her voice while puckering her lips in-front of the camera. Because of this stigma, I now refer to Bob Ross (and other classics) as meditation rather than ASMR.