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Barbers, Banquets, Cardi B and Cosplay: The Weird World of ASMR

For a genre based on calm whispering, ASMR’s movement has been anything but quiet. Millions of YouTube videos have emerged in recent years with the goal of inducing ASMR to its listeners, all with their own wacky twist. 

Cardi B’s exploration of the sensation has racked up a massive 48 million views on YouTube, and there are thousands of other channels dedicated to uploading content that trigger ASMR. You’ll find everything from ASMR barbers to Jack Sparrow cosplayers, and even Call of Duty: Warzone players, whispering their way through the game. And that’s before we even think about Mukbang. 

To hear the full effects of ASMR, you’ll need to be wearing headphones. So, pop on your NURAPHONE or NURALOOP and get ready to enter the weird world of ASMR. 

ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) is a pleasurable, tingling sensation that is often triggered by audio and visual stimuli – a similar, more enjoyable feeling to pins and needles. ASMR artists, or ASMRtists, induce the feeling with soft whispers, the snipping of scissors, tapping of bottles, lip smacking, rustling sounds, and much more. You’ll also notice that ASMRtists experiment with the stereo image of the audio, interchangeably honing in on the left or right speaker, which is commonplace in music production to create a more immersive experience. 

Why do people indulge in such a peculiar art form? For the most part, they feel relaxed and comforted when listening to ASMR. It can help relieve insomnia, loneliness and even enhance productivity

The research into the sensation and its effects is still relatively thin, given that the movement began in 2007. Still, anecdotal evidence abounds, with listeners lauding the genre for how it has helped them sleep, relax and so on. And by no means does ASMR have a small following – it’s the second most-searched term on YouTube this year

One study used an fMRI machine to observe the brain activity of 10 listeners experiencing ASMR. It found that the “brain tingles” would increase activation in emotional and empathetic regions, along with affiliative behaviours. There is also some evidence that shows a reduction in heart rates when experiencing ASMR, subsequently reducing stress.

As aforementioned, you may come across several ASMR barbershops on your travels around the weird world of ASMR. It turns out that, along with the stimulating sounds of snipping, spraying, bottle clinking and hair rustling, another way to trigger ASMR is by receiving personal attention. Hairdressers and barbershops are primed for such a task. In fact, this was embraced by directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton in the movie /Battle of the Sexes/ in an entire scene. Speaking to Fast Company, Dayton said: “People work to make videos that elicit this response, and we were wondering, ‘Could we get that response in a theatre full of people?”

We’re yet to see any research that indicates people prefer being treated as a smart device, but just in case you want to find out what it’s like to be an iPad, here’s a popular ASMR video that does just that. 

Alright, here’s where things get a little weirder. One immensely popular variant of ASMR is Mukbang, also known as an eating show. In short, Mukbang videos involve people loudly eating /a lot/ of food. The genre developed in South Korea and has spread like wildfire across YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Instagram. Many of the same audio cues are featured, such as rustling papers, clicks, the sound of water boiling and bubbling. The difference is, of course, the introduction of chomping, chewing, slurping and biting. Again, this is not an insignificant movement – the video below, created by Zach Choi ASMR, has garnered over 25 million YouTube views in 12 months. 

According to Insider, some Mukbang viewers enjoy the content not only for its ASMR including tendencies, but also for the social comfort. " These videos fulfil that need for social bonding while eating”, says one user. Another says: "I don't like to eat alone," one Redditor wrote, "and the ones I watch tell stories and stuff, so it's interesting to listen to and it feels like you're with a friend."

ASMR and its unique creators and bizarre corners may seem strange from the outside. But, as we’ve seen, venturing in could result in some pretty helpful experiences. It’s a big world out there, with plenty to explore. So we encourage diving deep into the scene and seeing if it tickles your fancy – or your brain. 

If you liked this article you might enjoy learning about Synesthesia and Music.

Words by Sam Willings

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