“I saw a ghost”, “I heard footsteps down the hallway”, “who said my name?”
How many of us have heard people say those things or read them in stories? And how many of us have stayed awake at night after watching or reading a scary story?
When watching horror content, jump scares and screams – to name a few – have become staple ingredients used to try to scare you. But what about whispers? I may not be a horror film connoisseur, but the amount that I’ve seen, I can say that I’ve yet to see whispers used on a regular basis – it’s been sprinkled here and there.
Well, in the ASMR Community on YouTube, sometimes known as the whispering community, you’ll find all kinds of themes, and it is there that when two things were combined, a new genre emerged: Horror and ASMR.
These videos are not necessarily produced with the intention to scare you, they are created to lull you to sleep. As you’ll see, this genre has become popular in the community and as a fan of the genre, it’s been fascinating and fun for me to explore it.
Dr. Craig Richard, Professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University (Virginia, USA), founder of ASMR University and author of the book, “Brain Tingles” explains why people seek horror content as entertainment. “Danger-associated fear, like encountering a snake while hiking, is not a pleasant feeling. It is driven by a huge surge of neurotransmitters and hormones (norepinephrine and epinephrine) that raise your alertness and prepare you to fight or run. You also get a sprinkling of endorphins to buffer pain. Safety-associated fear, like watching a horror movie or riding a roller coaster, can be a pleasant feeling. The surge of fear-related chemicals is not as extreme, and you still get the endorphin sprinkling which instead of being used to buffer pain, can provide pleasure and joy. Stimulate norepinephrine, epinephrine, and endorphins in a situation that is understood to be safe, and you have the magic cocktail for that wonderful feeling called 'excitement’”.
But how did ASMR and horror come together? Three ASMRtists shared with me their reasons for creating spooky content, which has become one of their most viewed videos on their channels.
“It was a request from a viewer and I wrestled with it for a long time. I was so nervous about making it and how it would be received. The request was for a medical type of kidnapping. Having watched a LOT of horror in the past, the first place my mind went to was having multiple personalities. I didn’t really step into it with a set plan in place, I just sort of improvised as I went along and as soon as my brain came up with ‘it’s not your turn!’ it just sort of flowed out from there.” ~ CrinkleLuvin ASMR (USA)
“It all started years ago with Halloween, even more so, making something appropriate for that time of year is what really inspired me, but always keeping in mind that it’s ASMR and keeping it tasteful…” ~ SusurrosdelSurr ASMR (Spain)
“It all started with a collab with Fantasy ASMR who gave me the inspiration…We came up with the idea of a spa, but for supernatural beings, thus the Necromanspa was born. Necromancer is a person who practices necromancy; a wizard or magician so we thought it was a perfect name!” ~ WhisperAudios (UK)
It has been astonishing for many in the community that horror and ASMR have come together, and the positive feedback they’ve received. All three content creators expressed that they were surprised that their spooky themed videos are one of their most viewed videos on their channels. As WhisperAudios ASMR explains, “I don’t think they are very ASMR-y! For me, the vampire role-plays don’t embody what ASMR is really, it’s more of a comedy short film. I find that nowadays people aren’t looking for ASMR in the ‘old school sense’, for example, everyday activities, mundane tasks, show and tells, they are looking for escapism and entertainment, but in a ‘relaxing’ way.”
Even though, ASMR can be used to aid in inducing sleep and relaxation, are these videos doing the opposite? Are they keeping people awake at night? “It’ a mixed bag. A lot of them find it relaxing and are confounded at how a video like that puts them to sleep. Some get scared. A few get angry. But the majority seem to enjoy the videos and find themselves calmed and relaxed.” ~ CrinkleLuvin ASMR
The high view count could indeed be attributed to viewers looking for quiet entertainment, but could they also trigger tingles on people who experience ASMR? “Horror-themed ASMR videos can stimulate oxytocin and relaxation if the viewer feels safe and understands that the ASMR artist created the video as beneficial and relaxing content. In contrast, an actual video of someone getting hurt or threatening the viewer, even if done with whispering and light sounds, would most likely not stimulate oxytocin and relaxation. So the context and purpose of the video are very important.” ~ Dr. Richard.
I asked all three ASMRtists if they find this content relaxing and here’s what they said:
“These videos don’t scare me…I’ve seen other ASMRtists’ work of this genre, and it’s their movements, and the calming environment they create that triggers the tingles” ~ SusurrosdelSurr ASMR
“It depends on who the artist is. Some ASMRtists I am so used to listening to and/or watching,…Rapunzel ASMR’s kidnapping series always relaxes me, as do JellyBean Green ASMR’s cult videos. TirarADeguello sometimes puts me a little on edge because he does so crazy well and is believable. Some ASMRtists I am so used to listening to and/or watching, even if they’re being an extremely creepy character, I’m comfortable with them so it’s less scary. I don’t know the actors in horror films so it’s less predictable.” ~ CrinkleLuvin ASMR.
“To be honest, I don’t really watch many horror based role-plays to relax to as I find them quite creepy, and it takes me out of the whole relaxation experience. I prefer ASMR videos that imitate a warm and loving environment (Like Latte ASMR does in her videos)” ~ WhisperAudiosASMR
ASMR videos are mostly known for role-plays where the creator plays the role of someone caring for you, such as, but not limited to, a teacher, an esthetician, and a doctor.
However, there is a suspicion I had; I asked the ASMRtists if there are non-horror videos that their audience found scary:
“I have done a few surgical medical videos that some people have found scary.” ~ CrinkleLuvin ASMR
“99% of the time people have said that my doctor videos have helped them to cure their fear of the doctor or dentist! Which is cool!” ~ WhisperAudios ASMR
ASMR content has been around for ten years on YouTube, and it has evolved throughout the years. It has definitely become an art form, a creative outlet for many. Even though these videos are not as scary as watching a horror Hollywood or Netflix film, they all agreed that ASMR has created a new genre of horror.
Personally, it was fun and relaxing to binge watch their spooky content. We all agreed that ASMR can take the edge off – make the story less scary. I do get tingles from watching this type of content, and have fallen asleep to it many times. But I must admit, as much as I enjoy it, sometimes, those whispers can keep me up at night.