Heard of ASMR? Here's the lowdown on this internet phenomenon

Photo: Makenna Kelly/YouTube
Photo: Makenna Kelly/YouTube 

It's an online movement that has many quite literally scratching their heads, and the YouTube stars of ASMR are cashing in big time, with one of the biggest stars, 13-year-old Makenna Kelly, earning more than $1270 a day from her You Tube channel.

If you've never head of ASMR, it stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and its purpose is to provide triggers for that tingly feeling people might get when someone plays with their hair, or lightly strokes their back.

It's said that it's the ultimate feel-good relaxation tool, with the videos featuring people whispering, eating, scratching, crumpling paper, stirring food, or even soap carving. Viewers find their own personal triggers and watch the YouTubers who cater for their specific ones.

The feeling of ASMR has been likened to the tingles from a head scratcher like this. Photo: Big W
The feeling of ASMR has been likened to the tingles from a head scratcher like this. Photo: Big W 

If it sounds a little weird, you're not alone in that. Not everyone understands or can access ASMR successfully, and more than a few people allude to finding some of the content sexual, though its champions say that it is purely for relaxation, much like the kind those head massagers provide.

In a post on Neurologica Blog, neurologist Steven Novella examined the phenomenon, admitting that at first he found it "eerily intimate," though he did not experience the euphoric and tingling sensations many speak of. Steven suggests that ASMR succeeds in 'activating the pleasure response' in some people.

He adds that as people are very diverse in terms of neurology and what triggers pleasure or pain, so too people experience ASMR in diverse ways. 

"it is plausible that a subset of the population has a particular pattern of neural hard wiring so that when they experience certain things that are typically quietly satisfying they get a little extra shot to their pleasure centre," he writes. Once they experience this then they seek out greater and greater triggers of this response, and perhaps then a learning or conditioning component kicks in."

I'll have to admit I found the whole thing pretty creepy when I started investigating, but now that I've delved into ASMR a little more deeply, I recognise one of my own triggers is listening to a particular kind of hard-heeled boot as the wearer walks on a pavement. Also the very particular rustling of someone who is going through their handbag looking for something.

And now I have a new-found ASMR love of soap carving. This video has more than 1.8 million views so I'm far from alone.

Then there are the people making big bucks from their You Tube videos. Makenna Kelly is the youngest and most recent of these stars with her Life with Mak channel.
She has amassed 1,114 million followers this year after her video eating honeycomb went viral. It has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Other top-ranking ASMR YouTubers are ASMR DarlingGentle Whispering ASMR and Gibi ASMR.

While there is no exact science to ASMR, there are researchers looking at it with interest.

Dr Craig Richard, author of the book Brain Tingles, says that, "ASMR seems to be an activation and awareness of the physiological pathways involved in inter-personal bonding."

"Inter-personal bonding is what happens between infants and parents, between close friends and between romantic partners - these all seem to share most of the triggers and responses for ASMR: soft vocals, whispering, eye-gazing, light touches, tingles, and deep feelings of comfort, relaxation, trust, elevated mood, and sleepiness."

It's totally plausible. While science looks for answers, however, you can search for your own triggers and enjoy any amount of videos to relax you. Your kids are probably experts on it already.

Not into it? Then there's the tried and true white noise, ocean sounds and classical music.