Does ASMR Really Exist?

by | Jul 10, 2018 | Blog | 5 comments

ASMR Bubbles

I’ve just come across an interesting article in El Pais about ASMR.

You can read the article here if you speak Spanish (don’t worry if not, I’ve translated it for you below).

If you’re not familiar with ASMR, it’s a sensory phenomenon where the patient experiences pleasure (almost like tiny bubbles bursting on the skin) in certain very specific scenarios – often scenarios that involve sound.

As someone who has both ASMR and misophonia I’m fascinated by this subject. I find it incredible that while some sounds can cause real agony, others can create a light headed tingly feeling.

In my eyes this is an absolutely real neurological phenomenon, but I think it’s important to hear different sides of the debate.

Sanchez, a neurologist, doesn’t believe that there’s evidence for ASMR as yet, but Agnieszka Janik McErlean from the University of Bath (who’s a friend of mine and whose name is spelt wrong below!) is pioneering research on the subject.

You can see the translated version of the article below (thanks to Google Translate).

—– El Pais Article Begins —–

The mystery of the whispers that triumph on YouTube

Millions of people watch ASMR videos because they claim to feel relaxation and a tingling in the head, but this phenomenon has no scientific basis


“The ASMR does not have a solid scientific basis,” says Álvaro Sánchez Ferro, neurologist and coordinator of the new technologies committee of the Spanish Society of Neurology. So far only about ten studies of this phenomenon have been published and for Sanchez, they are not very valid, since the people who participate in them are predisposed to feel this phenomenon. In addition, none has shown exactly what happens in the brain when viewing these videos or why there are people who feel a tingling to see them and others who do not.

Despite this, there are more than 11 million videos on YouTube that use the word ASMR as part of the title. There are channels like Gentle Whispering that surpass 400 million views and a million subscribers and has even been put into practice by celebrities such as Cara Delevingne or Eva Longoria. The youtubers began to publish this type of videos, which usually last more than ten minutes, seven years ago. Combs, books, towels or necklaces. For them, almost any instrument is valid for making ASMR sounds.

“That a perception that would have to be audiovisual is perceived in a sensitive way is something very rare, the percentage of people who can experience this is exceptional,” says Sanchez, who compares this phenomenon with synesthesia (secondary or associated sensation that occurs in one part of the body as a result of a stimulus applied in another). Therefore, he believes that there is a discrepancy between the volume of people who consume these videos and says to feel a tingling and the people who really exist with that kind of cross perception. The neurologist points out that it is probably an effect of suggestion. “We know that the suggestion is very powerful. For example, when we do clinical trials of migraines, almost 40% of the beneficial effect is produced by a placebo. ”

For Mel Domínguez, a 28-year-old youtuber, the ASMR became a way to escape from the hectic pace of life he leads. “I started to feel it when I was in school and I thought it only happened to me,” Domínguez explains. “I lent my materials to my classmates and the sound that came from them caused me a strange sensation of relaxation. I thought I was going crazy, “she laughs. It was only a matter of time until this young woman saw that other people felt the same as her and a phenomenon called ASMR took shape on YouTube. Now it has been 5 years since Mel Domínguez opened his own channel under the name of FocusMAS ASMR: “It’s the way I have to be able to help other people relax and forget everything”.

Agnieszca Janic McErlean, a psychologist at the University of Bath Spa and one of the few scientists who have studied ASMR, points out that people who experience it also do so in real life: “Most remember moments when they have experienced it in his childhood”. This is the case of Cristhian Molano, a Colombian who remembers how as a child he liked people to talk to him in a low voice or enjoyed going to the hairdresser, when they combed his hair and cut his hair. “It was a struggle to not fall asleep and ruin the cut,” he jokes.

Molano, currently, is 19 years old and is youtuber of ASMR videos. He uploaded his first video three years ago with the intention of provoking this feeling to other people. In a few hours he got dozens of visits and comments. That encouraged him to continue experimenting. For example, in some of his recordings, he does roleplays: he acts like a hairdresser, a doctor or a make-up artist. He currently publishes approximately three recordings per week and among his followers, there are people with “problems in their homes, depression, sadness or fatigue”. “I try before they go to sleep forget their work routines, study and even their diseases,” he says.

Sanchez recognizes that people “may be in great need of relaxation strategies because we live in a very stressful world.” Many psychological therapies, as explained by the neurologist, also use paused voice tones, with a very short cadence, whispers or very simple sounds that are in the background and make one stop thinking about worries and focus on other types of sensations. “In that sense, I do not see much difference between the ASMR and other relaxation strategies,” he explains.

To determine the veracity of this phenomenon, the neurologist proposes to carry out an investigation in which the ASMR is compared with some type of “more standardized” strategy. “The ideal would be to compare these two groups and see if there really is some kind of effect before investigating more in the neurobiological bases. Without proof that this produces a real effect beyond the placebo, it will cost to make a scientific study that includes more complicated or expensive tests, “he concludes.

You can see the article source here

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  1. Shirlgirl

    I went to the referenced ASMR YOUTube sites and listened to about six different sounds. With my Misophonic triggers I had a great deal of difficulty listening to more than three minutes of any of them. There are a lot of tapping fingers and high fidelity mouth and nasal sounds. The only sound I found somewhat soothing was the sound of the actor quietly pulling up his sleeves. It reminded me of a gentle back rub or hair stroking. But then it ended and he moved a glass dish under the mic and started tapping on the glass! #TRIGGER! ASMR is not for me. Glad someone gets some therapeutic pleasure from it. Even so-called soothing sounds and white noise machines flip me out because I can hear the slight loop-tick in the recording. Fans get a tick or squeak that drive me nuts too.

    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Shirlgirl, thanks for the comment.

      I think I have a similar response to you actually in terms of what I find triggers it. In the last few years ASMR on YouTube has exploded and has almost been commoditised and sexualised (weirdly).

      I don’t find my ASMR is triggered so much by whispering or lip noises or tapping (and in fact that would trigger my miso). It’s more ones which involve someone carefully explaining something in a soothing, calm voice. Or, as you say, something like sleeves being pulled up.

      It’s fascinating how fine the line is between one or the other being triggered.

      • Scott

        Well I was unfortunate enough to click on one of the videos where there was mic tapping and whispering, I managed about 3 seconds, it was traumatic. I would say of course it is a neurological condition just like miso is except people are getting pleasure not pain, yin yang.

  2. Darren

    I only discovered the term ASMR quite recently but my whole family have always had a name for the warm sensation…we call it tootimegs! My first memory of it was getting my feet measured as a child. Watching a sales assistant in a shop folding and bagging a purchase can trigger me or seeing anybody doing something with great care. Oddly the sound of a dog eating can trigger tootimegs whereas a human eating makes me want to kill!

    • Allergic to Sound

      Tootimegs is a brilliant name for it Darren, I think I prefer it to ASMR!


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