Misconceptions Surrounding ASMR


Raissa Ji

Believe it or not, you have most likely felt ASMR — autonomous sensory meridian response — before, a sensation on the scalp typically described as relaxing, tingling and sedative. Whether it was triggered through the soft whispers of someone reading you a storybook, or the crisp, rustling sounds of the storybook itself, the calm, tingling sensation just might have put you to sleep. Though the term ASMR is believed to have been invented only 10 years ago, most of us have probably felt this indescribable phenomenon ever since we were very young. ASMR and its community have grown tremendously over the years, with thousands of videos and creators, deemed ASMRtists, on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Despite ASMR’s increasing popularity, however, for various reasons, it is still extremely stigmatized and seen as taboo; by clearing up the misconceptions the general public, and maybe you, hold about ASMR, one may let go of their biases and open-mindedly enjoy ASMR for its various purposes.

ASMR is not a well-studied phenomenon, which is why it is hard to say whether all people are able to feel it. However, those who do feel ASMR have reported that the videos do indeed have a relaxing effect on them, which is caused by the release of chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and/or endorphins. Similar to how we all have our favorite foods, ASMR listeners may also have their favorite ASMR inducing sounds or visuals. The possible ways to produce ASMR are endless, which are why there are so many niches intertwined within the ASMR community.  Typical ASMR videos contain a variety of triggers such as tapping, whispering, hand movements, brushing, etc. These sounds are either deliberately produced, through using a variety of “random” items, or naturally produced, such as when the ASMRtists is applying lip gloss, getting ready, or doing a Q&A. Eating show ASMR, or mukbang ASMR, has also become extremely popular in the community. However, just like how any community has a “dark side”, the mukbang ASMR community has one as well. As a result, many misconceptions and stereotypes regarding ASMR have arisen; in particular, the normalized idea that ASMR is creepy, weird and gross.

Many have expressed their extreme dislike for ASMR on public forums like Reddit, stating that ASMR videos “make me extremely uncomfortable. How people can like when someone is munching in front of their ears is disgusting. Is this like a fetish or something?” A possible reason why a large majority of the general public dislikes ASMR videos stems from their disgust for certain creators and their actions. As a result, they generalize ASMR and the ASMR community as a whole, which leads to stereotypes and misconceptions. Nicholas Perry, who goes by Nikocado Avocado on YouTube, has particularly given the mukbang ASMR community a poor representation. Notorious for uploading daily videos of consuming almost ten packs of Samyang Spicy Ramen or fast foods while having mental breakdowns, such as punching the walls, throwing and spitting his food and sobbing, he has portrayed the mukbang ASMR community as a place where pigs and slobs binge eat and create disturbing noises, which could not be further from the reality of ASMR. Adding on, Nikocado Avocado also tends to ridiculously title his videos, such as “Jesus Is Coming Soon, He Spoke To Me”, “my life is falling apart….. sonic mukbang” or “i keep gaining weight & now i don’t care anymore,” which only further strengthens the narrative that the ASMR community is weird and creepy. In addition, people have shown their disgust of ASMR because of the “uncomfortable” and “disgusting” foods mukbangers eat, such as fish genitalia, spiders, raw eggs, raw beef, etc. Although some mukbangers do eat “uncommon” foods for the shock value and views, many foods they eat, like raw eggs, spiders and seafood, are a part of their culture — the issue is not in the “disgusting” foods mukbang ASMRtists choose to eat, but rather the general public’s inability to accept and understand things new to them. Especially since ASMR and the ASMR community is a relatively foreign and unknown concept, it is easily misunderstood and susceptible to stereotypes. By generalizing ASMR and its listeners as disgusting and weird because of the select ASMR videos and ASMRtists who portray those ideas, many of those who enjoy ASMR become closeted listeners becuase of fear of judgement.

Anything has a good and bad side, and the ASMR community is no exception. Though disliking certain ASMR videos and creators is perfectly fine, generalizing the science of ASMR and the entire community as weird and fetishizing because of certain misconceptions you may have held is not something we should normalize. By letting go of pre held biases and stereotypes, you may find that ASMR and the ASMR community is completely normal and enjoyable. Because of the way some brains react to ASMR sounds, ASMR has been known to help people sleep, even for those with occasional insomnia. Additionally, the ASMR community doesn’t just serve for ASMR purposes — some use ASMR videos as background or white noise, similar to how we listen to music while studying or reading. The mukbang ASMR community is also a place where many go to when they are hungry and a place for ASMRtists to express their creativity; for example, mukbang channel Hunnibee ASMR uses her platform to create various objects out of rice krispies, such as a Fujifilm Instax Film Camera, Nike Air Max 97 shoe, Hydro Flask, etc. Overall, it is important to acknowledge that though ASMR may not be for you, it is unfair to characterize it as fetishizy and disgusting when it serves so many beneficial purposes for such a large number of people.