A Short History of ASMR

Image:George Weed/TOWER

Last time, I gave a brief intro to ASMR.  This article is concerned with the history of ASMR. Again, I will quote from Wikipedia:

Evolutionary history

Nothing is known about whether or not there are any evolutionary origins to ASMR because the perceptual phenomenon is yet to be clearly identified as having biological correlates. Notwithstanding, a significant majority of descriptions of ASMR by those who experience it compare the sensation to that precipitated by receipt of tender physical touch, providing examples such as having their hair cut or combed. This has precipitated conjecture that ASMR might be related to the act of grooming.[49][50][51]

For example, David Huron, Professor in the School of Music at Ohio State University, states that the ‘ASMR effect’ is ‘clearly strongly related to the perception of non-threat and altruistic attention’ and has a ‘strong similarity to physical grooming in primates’ who ‘derive enormous pleasure (bordering on euphoria) when being groomed by a grooming partner’ ‘not to get clean, but rather to bond with each other’.[26]

Earlier history

Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway contains a passage describing something that may be comparable to ASMR.

Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz suggests that a passage from the novelMrs. Dalloway authored by Virginia Woolf and published in 1925, describes something distinctly comparable.[46][47] In the passage from Mrs. Dalloway cited by Setz, a nursemaid speaks to the man who is her patient ‘deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper’s, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound’.[48]

According to Setz, this citation generally alludes to the effectiveness of the human voice and soft or whispered vocal sounds specifically as a trigger of ASMR for many of those who experience it, as demonstrated by the responsive comments posted to YouTube videos that depict someone speaking softly or whispering, typically directly to camera.[23][24][25]

Contemporary history

The contemporary history of ASMR began on 19 October 2007 when a 21-year-old registered user of a discussion forum for health-related subjects at a website called ‘Steady Health’,[35] with the username ‘okaywhatever’, submitted a post in which they described having experienced a specific sensation since childhood, comparable to that stimulated by tracing fingers along the skin, yet often triggered by seemingly random and unrelated non-haptic events, such as ‘watching a puppet show’ or ‘being read a story’.[36]

Replies to this post, which indicated that a significant number of others experienced the sensation to which ‘okaywhatever’ referred, also in response to witnessing mundane events, precipitated the formation of a number of web-based locations intended to facilitate further discussion and analysis of the phenomenon for which there was plentiful anecdotal accounts,[23][37][38] yet no consensus-agreed name nor any scientific data or explanation.[30]

These included a Yahoo! Group called ‘The Society of Sensationalists’, founded on 12 December 2008 by a user named ‘Ryan, AKA M?stery’;[39] a blog at Blogspot.com called ‘The Unnamed Feeling’, launched on 13 February 2010 by Andrew MacMuiris;[40] an ASMR Facebook Group founded on 25 February 2010 by Jennifer Allen;[6] a Subreddit forum created by an individual with the username ‘ MrStonedOne’ on 28 February 2011;[41] and a number of other web locations that facilitate user interaction.[42][43][44][45]

Prior to the subsequent social consensus that led to what is now the ubiquitous adoption of that term, other names were proposed and discussed at a number of locations including the Steady Health forum, the Society of Sensationalists Yahoo! Group and the Unnamed Feeling Blog.

Proposed formal names included “Attention Induced Head Orgasm”, “Attention Induced Euphoria” and “Attention Induced Observant Euphoria”, whilst colloquial terms in usage included “brain massage”, “head tingle”, “brain tingle”, “spine tingle” and “brain orgasm”.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Background and History

 

Youtube and then Spotify/iTunes are the most common places to find ASMR content online as far as I know.

Here’s a few quotes from an article on Maria of Gentle Whispering, the most well know ASMR content creator, from 2016:

Maria says she unintentionally experienced ASMR throughout her life, such as when a kindergarten friend gently tickled her forearm or a teacher whispered directions to her class. At the time she was unaware that there was a term for it. While struggling with depression during a divorce in 2009, she stumbled upon a video called “whisper” and immediately felt a tingly wave of relaxation upon hearing the narrator’s voice.

Maria’s videos have logged more than 203.5 million views and she has since quit her nine-to-five administrative job to be a full-time content creator. She told NextShark:

“I have hundreds of messages from people struggling with something and need an outlet to calm down: veterans messaging about PTSD night terrors, so videos calm them down extremely; misunderstood teenagers who don’t know how to deal with life yet and are stressed out because they don’t know how to deal with pressure; people from all walks of life including firefighters, lawyers, teachers, single mothers.”

According to Maria, the ASMR community has grown exponentially in the past two years, allowing her and other ASMR artists to pursue it full-time. However, when Maria first began watching ASMR videos there was no ASMR community and no term for ASMR.

NextShark

 

Maria’s most watched video has 19 million views (as of this writing):

*_* Oh such a good 3D-sound ASMR video *_*

 

Another creator, ASMR Darling, also has a video with 19 million views (as of this writing):

ASMR 10 Triggers to Help You Sleep ♥

 

As with all creative endeavours, people have ventured to monetize and sexualize ASMR. More from Wikipedia:

Whilst many colloquial and formal terms used and proposed between 2007 and 2010 included reference to orgasm, there was during that time a significant majority objection to its use among those active in online discussions, many of whom have continued to persist in differentiating the euphoric and relaxing nature of ASMR from sexual arousal.[13] However, by 2015, a division had occurred within the ASMR community over the subject of sexual arousal, with some creating videos categorized as ASMRotica (ASMR erotica), which are deliberately designed to be sexually stimulating.[14][15]

The initial consensus among the ASMR Community was that the name should not pose a high risk of the phenomenon being perceived as sexual.

There have been persistent efforts by many of those who form the ‘ASMR community’ to distinguish the euphoric sensation that characterizes ASMR from sexual arousal, and to differentiate video media created with intent to trigger it from pornography.[88][89]

Meanwhile, some journalists and commentators have drawn attention to the way in which many videos made as triggers are susceptible to being perceived as sexually provocative in a number of ways. Firstly, the use of objects as acoustic instruments and points of visual focus, accompanied by a softly spoken voice has been described as fetishistic. Secondly, commentary and reporting on ASMR videos points out that the majority of ‘ASMRtists’ appearing in them are ‘young attractive females’, whose potential appeal is further allegedly sexualized by their use of a whispered vocal expression and gentleness of simulated touch purportedly associated exclusively with intimacy. The popularity of ASMR videos featuring women does substantially exceed those created by male performers.[citation needed] However, there are some popular male ‘ASMRtists’.[23][37][89][90][91][92][93][94]

Name

Association with Sexuality

 

Speaking of which, here’s a partly sad video by ASMR Darling about her personal experience of making videos:

What Do My Friends and Family Think of ASMR?

 

Beyond the money one can make from clicks, some ASMR Youtubers make sponsored videos that advertise a product or service, e.g. :

ASMR Spa Roleplay | Lily Whispers ASMR

 

Additionally, content creator Heather Feather built a sound studio at great expense to make better videos:

I’ve Been Keeping A Secret: ASMR Soft Spoken Binaural Reveal