Whenever I mention ASMR in conversation, it’s a pretty safe bet I will need to follow up with an explanation. ASMR is only a very recently recognized phenomenon and although it is starting to break into more mainstream coverage (such as TIME magazine), it has not yet reached a point of understanding where I can simply mention it without having to refer people to a YouTube video primer. This is something I have had to do to pretty much everyone else in my cybercultures class with the exception of one particularly clued in netizen. My usual responses tend to be comments on whether or not they, too, get triggered, often accompanied with a certain detectable trace of bewilderment at the whole cultures existence. But on a few other occasions I have gotten the response, “oh, so is it sort of like X?” Where ‘X’ in this case is another neurological, sensory condition such as synaesthesia or misophonia. This got me thinking about exactly how ASMR might compare or relate to other known conditions and neurosensory phenomena. Continue reading ASMRelated: Placing ASMR with Related Phenomena
How is a user created? This was the question at the forefront of Chris Chesher’s mind as he wrote ‘Layers of Code, Layers of Subjectivity’ in 2004, and upon reading it I was drawn to a clear gap in my understanding of ASMR culture.
According to Chesher (2004) the process of generating users is complex and hard to predict, but it can be understood through the lenses of ‘invocation’, ‘avocation’, and ‘vocation’. In this relationship, the invocation is a “special power” a user is able to conjure forth through the avocations which make up the languages, platforms, and vectors through which invocations can occur (Chesher 2004). Through the process of defining an ASMRtist – a performer and content creator who specializes in manipulating ASMR triggers for the benefit of an online audience – we are also able to define the ‘vocation’. Continue reading How is ASMR Used?
As I touched on in my previous post, ASMR is a physical phenomenon that has been described and actualized anecdotally through online forums and communities. I previously described what ASMR is and what some of the limited research into the phenomenon has revealed in terms of how it is triggered. This week I aim to start mapping out further points of research for my topic so that I may begin place ASMR culture within the context of history and related relaxation research – whilst also connecting it with relevant cyberculture theory.
ASMR was discovered by the internet through shared knowledge, and from its discovery a culture was born. A cybersubculture, if you will. David Bell (2006) argues the nature of cyberspace predicts the emergence of cybersubcultures by allowing us to globally access, share and collectivize our obsessions and prioritize aspects of ourselves – which is necessary in order to extract meaning from the boundless streams of data that make up the internet. It can largely be explained by the long-tail effect, which describes the way niches are able to become profitable and reach their dispersed audiences over a long period of time thanks to the diminished costs of production and distribution in online dynamics (Anderson 2009).
In a study of 475 mixed gender participants, Barratt and Davis (2015) identified simulated intimacy and personal attention as strong triggers for ASMR. This backs up the host of anecdotal evidence found in the community, and is one of the more common triggers used by ASMRtist – who take advantage of role playing to simulate intimacy with their audience (see video above). In relation to simulated companionship or intimacy, it is not the intelligence or consciousness of the media or software that forges the bond, but rather the ability to push certain “Darwinian” buttons in people (eg. making eye contact) that causes people to respond as though they were in a relationship (Turkle 2013). I was interested to look at earlier examples of simulated intimacy that predate ASMR culture. One interesting example I found was a YouTube upload of a VHS tape called Rent-a-Friend which was a 60-minute role play video released in 1986 to help combat loneliness (Found Footage Fest 2012). Whilst this was an interesting and quirky media experiment to find as an example of simulated intimacy, it didn’t manage to trigger ASMR for me. Then I stumbled across Bob Ross.
Bob Ross was the painter who hosted the American instructional television series The Joy of Painting which aired from 1983 to 1994 (IMDb 2016). As you can see below, he spoke softly and slowly as he guided the audience through the process of completing an entire landscape painting from scratch. Aside from the feeling of intimacy created by the Bob in his minimalist set, the slow gentle sound of his voice and the light brushing sound of bristles against the easel triggered ASMR in me. As it turns out, Bob Ross is commonly talked about in ASMR communities as one of the earliest examples of ASMR triggering media, with many referring to him as a classic or father figure in the ASMR world (Schneider 2015). This was particularly fascinating to me because not only does Bob Ross’ show predate AMSRtist media by several decades, it also contests the idea that ASMR triggers themselves may be related to gender. I still think there are definitely gender dynamics at play in ASMR videos given the prevalence of female performers, but this may have more to do with other social conventions of masculinity and femininity than with the ASMR triggers themselves.
In the coming weeks I would like to explore the role of gender and sexuality in ASMR further. I would also be interested to test whether or not someone who experiences ASMR is able to be triggered by their own performance as an ASMRtist. I would also like to look into other forms of relaxation such as meditation, and examine other sensory phenomenon that are often thought to be related to ASMR such as misophonia and Synaesthesia.
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.