Remember that hilarious show loosely based on Chris Rock’s childhood?
If you troll YouTube enough, you may just come across some strange videos of people whispering what seems like total nonsense at you—maybe they’re telling you how they’re going to put makeup on your face and brush your hair, or maybe they’re repairing some problem in an invisible (but pleasantly crinkly-sounding) appliance while looking into your eyes.
If these videos don’t elicit any kind of pleasurable physical response, you will likely find yourself extremely bewildered (not to mention bored) by the content before you. How in the world, you might think, does a video of a person I can barely understand saying extremely mundane things get millions of views on the internet?
On the other hand, if you’ve found yourself finishing the first video and immediately clamoring to find the next whispery tale, you’re likely experiencing autonomous sensory meridian response (better known by the acronym ASMR). Popular ASMR video creator Maria (she goes by GentleWhispering on YouTube and doesn’t use her last name) described it as a “pleasant tingling feeling that you experience when you hear unique, soft voices or certain soothing sounds such as tapping.”
Here are some surprising notions that can also explain what ASMR is all about:
1. Sounds have serious power to create significant physical sensations.
Maria’s individual videos on YouTube have been viewed millions of times, and her cumulative view count exceeds 102 million. Based on the content of what she’s saying in her videos and the lack of any real plot or apparent entertainment, this is astounding—and it means that the sensations that her voice, hand movements, and hair brushing cause in viewers is enough to hold them captive throughout videos that regularly last around forty-five minutes.
2. There’s such thing as a non-sexual orgasm.
People often refer to ASMR as a brain orgasm, and though it can feel incredibly euphoric, it’s not related to sexual arousal (at least not usually).
3. Whispering can cure panic attacks.
ASMR does have its healing properties (though they’re not exactly doctor prescribed). ASMR video creator Maria actually discovered that people made the videos for which she’s currently (somewhat) famous when she was going through depression and was looking for relaxing videos to help put her to sleep, according to an article about her in the Washington Post.
4. Hand movements alone in a video can serve as a more than adequate “trigger” for people who are ASMR sensitive.
It’s hard to say exactly why this is the case, but two hands moving slowly in synchronicity can provide the same, pleasant tingling sensation that a whispering voice does. Possibly because it looks like a distant massage?
5. Grooming indeed has ample social value.
Scientists have long believed that primates groom each other for more than just good hygiene. While cleaning is certainly a key component to the ritual, bonding is, too. ASMR fits into this idea because those who experience it find it pleasurable and comforting to watch a video simulation of someone else “grooming” them (i.e., “putting on their makeup” or treating them to a day at the fictional spa). Also, have you ever watched someone else get slowly and carefully checked for lice through their thick, silky hair with long fingernails attached to gently moving hands? It can feel surprisingly good…depending on how ASMR-sensitive you are.
6. Science can’t back up everything that’s physically “real.”
It’s been really hard for people to study ASMR or scientifically “prove” that it’s a real thing, which is why those who aren’t as prone to it may find the numerous whispery videos online so confusing. You won’t find any scientific studies published about the effect, nor will you find it in any clinician’s textbook—it’s just not that kind of a term, having grown out of the community of people who experience it instead of academia’s many labs and journals.
7. It is believed that everyone has the ability to experiences ASMR.
At least, that’s what Maria suggests. Why not see for yourself?