Tingling truths: Debunking common myths about ASMR

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From three-hour YouTube livestreams to thirty second TikToks, ASMR has permeated the Internet. However, so have misconceptions and harmful stigmas surrounding it.

ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is a phenomenon that causes a euphoric tingling sensation down the scalp, neck and spine in response to specific stimuli, often called ASMR “triggers.” ASMR content creators, often called ASMRtists, attempt to reproduce this feeling for their viewers. The ASMR online community is a kind, welcoming space, but it often faces misunderstanding and judgment from those who don’t understand ASMR. Read on for the truth on some common ASMR myths.

Myth: ASMR is just a common Internet fad.

Reality: While there’s a large community of ASMR creators and listeners online, most people’s first experiences of ASMR actually happen offline. Most consumers of ASMR content have experienced the phenomenon for most of their life, long before discovering the terminology to describe it. I’ve personally experienced ASMR for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was about 13 and searched on my iPod touch, “Why does my brain tingle when people tap on things,” that I learned that what I’d been experiencing had a name, and that others experienced it too.

Myth: ASMR is just for falling asleep.

Reality: While ASMR can often help you fall asleep, that’s only one of the many reasons why people listen. Some listeners watch ASMR to unwind, meditate or manage anxiety. Others listen to ASMR to stay focused while studying. And with a plethora of energy cleansing ASMR videos online, it can be a helpful tool in fostering a healthy headspace.

Myth: ASMR is inherently sexual.

Reality: Nope. Of all misconceptions about ASMR, this one is by far the most damaging. While we often associate whispers or personal attention with sex, this couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, some of the most popular ASMR creators are kids and teenagers, and many ASMR content creators are under the age of 18. But regardless of age, sexualizing and stigmatizing ASMR creators without their consent is wrong and violent. The sexualization of ASMR comes from those outside of the ASMR community — who know nothing about ASMR and have made harmful judgments based on their own prejudice. Online ASMR spaces are designed to feel safe, open and comfortable. Sexualization of ASMR, whether it occurs online or in real conversations, makes these safe spaces feel unsafe. If you take one thing from this article, please let it be to stop sexualizing ASMR.

Myth: Most ASMR videos include eating noises.

Reality: I love ASMR, but I despise the sound of people eating. Luckily for me, this is only one small subcategory of ASMR. There are hundreds of thousands of ASMR videos, and an even greater number of ASMR triggers. If you suffer from misophonia — a strong reaction to specific sounds, often chewing, swallowing or eating — you might still be able to enjoy ASMR by finding creators that avoid eating triggers. Tons of creators specialize in tapping, whispering, hand sounds, energy pulling, page turning, makeup application, microphone brushing and more, all without ever eating on camera.

Myth: ASMR triggers are only auditory.

Reality: This is one of the most interesting aspects of ASMR. While most people associate ASMR with sounds, there are visual triggers too, often in the form of soothing hand motions. Even smells can trigger ASMR experiences, although this is much more rare.

Myth: Scientists can fully explain ASMR.

Reality: I wish! Outside of a few small studies, very little research has been done on ASMR. We still don’t understand why some people love ASMR while others don’t even experience it, and we haven’t reached a scientific consensus on the evolutionary origins of the phenomenon. While I wish there was more research out there, the endless potential is enthralling. I look forward to these questions being answered in my lifetime. 

So there you have it! Any cognitive science students out there looking for something to research?

Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].