I watched an 18-minute YouTube video of SassESnacks eating her way through a bowl of black bean noodles.
She whispered about how hungry she was, how good it tasted. She lifted the bowl up to the camera to show it to me. She made all sorts of slurping sounds and chewing noises. She never showed her full face, since the camera was zoomed up close to her mouth and that bowl of slimy noodles.
Food is really in our faces these days, but I’ve never seen anything quite so extreme.
All that food-on-face made me uncomfortable, yet SassESnacks’ video has 4 million views and more than 19,000 likes.
Who is watching this stuff? People into ASMR.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a term used to describe pleasing, tingling sensations experienced through stimuli such as whispering, soft talking, light touches and methodical sounds.
ASMR was coined in 2010 by a woman named Jennifer Allen, who also started a Facebook group for people like her who discovered that certain triggers brought on the tingles for them.
Since then, a whole lot of people have jumped on the ASMR bandwagon: researchers, individuals who seek out such stimuli, and the artists — called ASMRtists — who create ASMR content, video being a common medium.
ASMR videos tend to be repetitive, gentle, slow and steady. The combination of the visual and the audio is supposed to offer a focused, non-threatening sensory experience.
You can find ASMR videos in many genres on YouTube. Lately, though, there is a growing body of food-related ASMR. There are ASMR artists who tape themselves opening a bag of fast-food, making sure that the act of unwrapping is a loud, crinkly affair. That follows with chewing the food, the microphone so close, the audio so amped up, that even swallowing is audible.
And then there’s the cooking. You can watch as someone on the ASMR cooking channel Sound Croquette makes mozzarella sticks, Nutella crepes, fried chicken and more. In some cooking videos, the artist whispers all the while. In others there is no talking, only the sights and rhythmic sounds of cooking — frying, cracking an egg, boiling water, chopping, mixing and stirring.
The comments from viewers — some who love what they see, others critical of anything from the artist’s voice to the cooking itself — are as interesting to me as the videos.
To get a better understanding of ASMR, I contacted Dr. Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.
Richard founded ASMRuniversity.com, a clearinghouse that encourages ASMR research and information-sharing.
Richard, Allen and a graduate student have been part of an ongoing research project since 2014 to find out more about the demographics of those who experience ASMR. Thus far, more than 20,000 people have responded to the survey on the ASMRuniversity website.
Are there really benefits to ASMR? “It all depends on the individual,” Richard said. “Scientifically, it is unclear as to the potential benefits. Anecdotally, you will hear of amazing things.”
He cited a woman who used ASMR to stop her addiction to the opioid pain medication Oxycodone. He noted that other people say ASMR helps them to focus, reduces chronic pain, or helps them fall asleep. Relaxation and stress reduction are also commonly cited.
While there have been surveys with peer-reviewed results, there have not been any clinical studies that have confirmed the benefits of ASMR for physical conditions, Richard said.
We chatted about my own negative experience while viewing videos such as those of SassESnacks and her oral sounds with noodles. Am I simply someone who can’t experience ASMR? Richard said there may be something different in the brain of those who experience ASMR, but there was also the possibility that I just hadn’t watched the right video for me.
“There are some people who will say, ‘I watched that video and I didn’t get ASMR at all.’ That doesn’t clarify if that person didn’t experience ASMR if they only tried one or two experiences. That’s the equivalent of someone sampling a piece of food, not liking it, and saying everything on the buffet table is horrible,” Richard said.
I sent him links to a bunch of food videos labeled ASMR. Some seemed like full-blown food porn to me.
“There is a bit of culinary seduction or sensualized seduction in those videos, and some of our minds go there because they are young females,” Richard said. “I would not label them erotic ASMR, which is much more blatant. These are food ASMR. ASMR inherently has a strong tone of intimacy, so there is an aspect of connectivity associated with ASMR that can overlap into things like sensuality or sexualization, but they are different.”
Whispering, he said, was a huge trigger. In addition, the food sounds and the mouth sounds were genuine ASMR sounds, he said. “It’s not always popular with everyone, but they fall into strong ASMR triggers for many people.”
Ah, that explained why a few food ASMR videos even include a note with the time stamp for when eating begins. Nothing like fast-forwarding to the part when someone chews with their mouth open.
And what’s up with the noodles? According to Richard, the stirring of noodles or any sort of slimy food, foam and other “things that make squishy, slimy sounds” are widely reported to stimulate ASMR.
Interestingly, users can improve the ASMR experience (or the chance of one) by using headphones. “It makes it more realistic,” Richard said. “It makes it seem like someone is there with you. That is at the heart of ASMR. It’s about connecting with someone, about feeling safe and being with someone you trust.”
Marketers and advertisers know that trust is important for building brand loyalty. Perhaps that’s why some companies have created ASMR commercials for major food and beverage brands, including Dove Chocolate, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ritz Crackers. Last year, Pepsi created an eight-second video that highlights the fizziness of its soda. The company posted it on Instagram with the text: “The sound of effervescence has us feeling pretty chill… #ASMR (Turn the sound on!).”
Richard sees these commercial ASMR videos as a positive change of pace in advertising. “Most advertising leans toward yelling. I think it’s nice for them to lean the other way, to slow it down a bit and become more intimate with me. It’s calm, relaxing, and I get to decide if I want to trust this product.”
If ASMR has made its way into commercials, what’s next? Richard said it is creeping into other media forms. In fact, there are two ASMR movies in production. “Imagine a full-length ASMR video produced by a large studio with a big budget with a goal to make it an amazing ASMR experience. That is a movie you are going to want to see over and over if you experience ASMR anyway.”
Richard also predicts the launch of ASMR podcasts because audio is more important than visual for an ASMR experience. “The visual just helps to convince you that you are in the experience.”
Stronger than audio for stimulating ASMR, though, is touch, Richard said, which is why he envisions touch-mediated virtual ASMR. Picture an ASMR video. But before you watch it, you put on a special shirt and hat. As the video plays, the person on the screen simulates touching you. And you experience it because that shirt and hat are rigged to transmit the touch.
That gives me the chills.