Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response; a series of words that, when presented in isolation, are unlikely to instil any meaning in the readers’ mind. If you were to use this vaguely medical-sounding term in casual conversation I can only imagine the listener tilting their head like a puppy; a vacant look of curiosity expressed at 30 degrees. But what ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR) actually describes is a feeling that is (anecdotally) much more likely to be familiar. It’s a physiological response yet to be described by medical science. Yet, thanks to the long tail effect and the logic of networked communities, ASMR has grown from casual discussions in online threads into a large, growing community of ASMR-triggering media consumers and producers (Hudson 2015). The ASMR subreddit has become one of the largest resources on the subject, with over 110 500 subscribers at time of writing. But what the hell is it?
“Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a previously unstudied sensory phenomenon, in which individuals experience a tingling, static-like sensation across the scalp, back of the neck and at times further areas in response to specific triggering audio and visual stimuli. This sensation is widely reported to be accompanied by feelings of relaxation and well-being.” (Barratt and Davis 2015)
ASMR is a euphoric, tingling sensation in the scalp that is triggered in certain individuals when they are presented with certain audio and visual stimuli in intimate spaces. In the first of very few scientific studies into the phenomenon, Barratt and Davis (2015) identify the most common ASMR triggers as ‘whispering’, ‘personal attention’, ‘crisp sounds’, and ‘slow movements’. Based on these triggers – which had already been largely discovered anecdotally in the community – a large community of ASMRtists have emerged on platforms such as YouTube, producing video media designed to trigger ASMR experiences (Hudson 2015). These videos broadly tend to either be role plays of intimate, first person experiences where the ASMRtist is paying close personal attention to you (haircuts, medical examinations, etc), or they are slow, quiet videos of the ASRMtist acting upon an object in some way (eg. an unboxing video). In the video that made me realize I experienced ASMR, the performer ‘ASMR Angel’ spends 25 minutes wrapping Christmas presents.
However, within these two very broad types of video, a great many different genres and flavours of ASMR triggering videos have emerged. These include Sci-Fi ‘Memory Erasure Roleplays’, ASMRotica and even ASMR Let’s Play videos. Within the past year there have been a number of ASMR VR experiences, the first of which was a co-production between several ASMRtists called ‘The K3YS’. The intimate space creation core to ASMR videos makes immersive VR technologies a natural and logical platform for the future of the media – which already utilizes binaural technologies to create 3D soundscapes that give a sense of intimate space (Hudson 2015).
The project I am proposing is to explore the triggers, techniques and technologies that create the best experiences for ASMR users and try and create a new piece ASMR media from scratch. The plan is to recruit the help of classmates and other interested people to find out which of them experiences the phenomenon and who is capable of triggering it in others. I am also interested in examining and explaining the role of gender and sexuality at play in these videos (many of which appear to be performed by conventionally attractive young women) and testing possible links between ASRM and synaesthesia, misophonia, and ‘flow state’ (Barratt and Davis 2015). It would also be worth looking at a comparison between the intensity of the euphoric ASMR experience across different technologies (eg. binaural and VR).
Can we launch a new, undiscovered ASMRtist talent?
I am excited to find out.