A bizarre craze is sweeping the internet where people watch "artists" whisper to a camera while performing mundane tasks in a bid to reduce stress.

The seedlings for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response therapy, or ASMR therapy, first began in 2008 through online discussion groups but it has gained increasing momentum over recent years.

It involves creating a sensation in the brain to reduce stress, help solve sleep issues and possibly treat medical conditions such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there has been very little scientific research into it, with only one research paper published on the phenomenon.

One article from 2012 said people who respond to this form of therapy experience it as "brain orgasms", with ASMR converts saying they feel a tingling that starts in the head and moves down into the rest of the body.

What is it?

The YouTube craze of ASMR involves people posting videos of themselves online performing mundane tasks while whispering. A quick search in YouTube for ASMR returns thousands of results, with many of the films getting hundreds of thousands of views.

Videos normally last about 20-30 minutes and this month alone, over 4,000 videos to do with ASMR have been uploaded.

What does it do?

ASMR enthusiasts claim believers experience a release of chemicals that are brought about by the whispery calming tones.

Australian ASMR therapist Lauren Ostrowski Fenton, or the 'Whispering Mum', told news.com.au that the practice does not work for everyone but for those who it works for, the results are highly effective: "Whether it's seratonin, melatonin or OxyContin, it has an effect on people — not everyone — that takes a person back to a childhood memory that's comforting.

"If your mother tapped her fingers, brushed your hair, looked into your eyes, those are communication symbols that elicit a response, and when someone has that sensation they fall asleep very quickly."

She said people have told her how it has helped them with depression and PTSD. Others just say it helps them to relax or fall asleep.

No scientific basis

ASMR has no scientific basis – something followers are happy to accept. There is little research or evidence about it and some experts have suggested it may help some people relax in the same way meditating or having a massage does.

The lack of research was highlighted by Tom Stafford, lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield, who told the Independent in 2012 that it cannot be completely discounted as nonsense: "It might well be a real thing, but it's inherently difficult to research. The inner experience is the point of a lot of psychological investigation, but when you've got something like this that you can't see or feel, and it doesn't happen for everyone, it falls into a blind spot. It's like synaesthesia – for years it was a myth, then in the 1990s people came up with a reliable way of measuring it."

Other scientists have said it would be interesting to study to find out why the videos affect some people but not others.

Yale neurologist Steven Novella once said: "What we need at this point are functional MRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation studies that look at what is happening in the brains of people while experiencing ASMR, vs typical controls. Are their brains really different, and in what way? I also wonder if the same or similar experience can be artificially induced in typical (non-ASMR) people."

More research is currently being conducted. Nick Davis, from Manchester Metropolitan University, published a survey of ASMR users to find out more about why they do it. Findings largely showed it triggers feelings of content, so they did it for relaxation purposes. Just 5% said they did it for sexual stimulation.

He told the Guardian: "ASMR is interesting to me as a psychologist because it's a bit 'weird'. The sensations people describe are quite hard to describe, and that's odd because people are usually quite good at describing bodily sensation. So we wanted to know if everybody's ASMR experience is the same, and of people tend to be triggered by the same sorts of things.

"The fact that a huge number of people are triggered by whispering voices suggests that the sensation is related to being intimate with someone in a non-sexual way. Very few people reported a sexual motivation for ASMR, it really is about feeling relaxed or vulnerable with another person."


While the practice appears harmless, some experts have warned of the dangers of ASMR. Amer Khan of the Sutter Neuroscience Institute said using the videos to go to sleep may make people dependent on them, meaning sleep problems could become worse.

On a more severe level, clinical psychologist Bob Montgomery told the news website that it is inherently dangerous to tout ASMR as a treatment for mental health problems: "What we have to do when people come to us after going through experimental treatments they believe can help them, is undo that damage. It's not just useless, it makes them think there's something terribly wrong with them," he said.