It started in preschool for Gracie. She and her classmates were coloring with markers. The crinkling of the paper and the squeak of the markers made Gracie so tired that she put her head on the table and fell asleep. It kept happening, that tingly, drowsy feeling, when she heard tapping sounds or whispering. In 2011, when Gracie was 7, she learned that the feeling had a name: ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, the unscientific name for the relaxed, euphoric feeling some people report experiencing when they hear certain “triggers,” such as whispered voices, crinkling paper, or fingernails tapping on a hard surface. Many people also call the feeling “tingles.”
The term was coined nearly a decade ago, and since then, ASMR has blossomed into a cultural oddity with a robust online community, largely centered around YouTube videos. These videos, though all intended to create that ASMR feeling, use a wide variety of tactics to get there. Sometimes it’s a person whispering into the camera, pretending to wash the viewer’s face or massage her head. There are also meditations; role plays of teachers, doctor visits, and even alien abductions; and disembodied hands tapping books or scratching bars of soap. Some people find chewing and “mouth sounds” tingle-inducing. There are ASMR celebrities with hundreds of thousands of devotees. There was even a Super Bowl commercial this year featuring Zoë Kravitz tapping a beer bottle, ASMR-style. And now there is an established community of kids making ASMR videos, too, and Gracie is part of it.