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ELSA bends her per­fectly coiffed head to her mi­cro­phone and whispers with care “peely-wally”. She pauses and adds, sotto voce: “That means pale and sickly in ap­pear- ance.”

The 40-minute video en­ti­tled “Teach­ing you Scot­tish slang for tin­gles” has gained more than one-quar­ter of a mil­lion views since it was posted in Jan­uary, and is part of a vast, grow­ing cat­a­logue of YouTube videos that aim to trig­ger plea­sur­able sen­sa­tions in the brain – aka brain or­gasms.

Wel­come to the weird and won­der­ful world of au­ton­o­mous sen­sory me- rid­ian re­sponse, or ASMR, a hid­den on­line com­mu­nity where you’ll find ev­ery­thing from the beau­ti­ful to the ba­nal and even the down­right creepy.

It’s been called a mas­sage for the mind and some claim it is the cere­bral stress-bust­ing equiv­a­lent of a work­out. Trig­gers for “tin­gles” in­clude the afore­men­tioned whis­per­ing, the close per­sonal at­ten­tion of an eye test, watch­ing some­one per­form­ing mun­dane tasks like fold­ing tow­els, the sen­sa­tions of cer­tain foods in the mouth like mashed pota­toes, and re­peated sounds like tap­ping or the turn­ing of pages.

The “fetish” has now be­come a YouTube sen­sa­tion: a search for ASMR brings up al­most seven mil­lion hits. The term was coined on­line in the US more than five years ago with the first UK videos pop­ping up a few years af­ter that. But in re­cent months Scots have been get­ting in on the act, rolling their rs and drop­ping their glot­tal stop ts to trig­ger ASMR in the grow­ing global “tingle” com­mu­nity.

Elsa, who doesn’t want to give her sec­ond name, set up her ASMR chan­nel in Novem­ber last year. She now has more than 20,000 sub­scribers and has clocked up over one mil­lion views of videos such as “Leaf­ing Through the Con­cise Scots Dic­tio­nary”.

The re­cent grad­u­ate, from Glas­gow, came across ASMR videos four years ago and was in­spired to try out her own – uniquely Scot­tish – content.

“It has been lovely to see those videos reach such a wide au­di­ence across the world,” she says. “Peo­ple seem ea­ger to talk about the quirks of lo­cal speech and to learn about Scot­tish words. Per­haps there is also a melodic qual­ity to Scots that en­hances the ASMR ef­fect. All the plo­sive con­so­nants do al­most cre­ate a ‘tap­ping’ sound when whis­pered, which is a com­mon trig­ger.”

Other Scot­tish ASMR stars join­ing the bur­geon­ing on­line com­mu­nity in­clude Scot­tish ASMR Blue­berry, and ASMR Scots­man. Lauren, 22, also from Glas­gow, set up her Scot­tish Mur­murs ASMR chan­nel in July last year af­ter leav­ing univer­sity and now has more than 56,000 sub­scribers and 5,281,572 views. She is earn­ing al­most £1,000 a month through ad­ver­tis­ing.

She, too, has made play­ful videos of Gaelic words and Scot­tish slang, and her role-play videos – a clas­sic in the ASMR genre – are also big hits. In “Help­ing You Sleep” – which has had more than 200,000 views – she ap­pears to be un­der the sheets “mas­sag­ing” hand lo­tion into the view­ers’ hands. In oth­ers she of­fers a bar­ber’s ex­pe­ri­ence, a staged “kilt fit­ting” and a doc­tor’s ex­am­i­na­tion.

“I think ASMR is very com­mon and peo­ple un­der­stand what you mean when you say ‘that tingly feel­ing you get when some­one plays with your hair or tick­les your back’,” says Lauren, who used to watch videos to help her sleep and re­duce exam stress. “What a lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is that you can ac­tu­ally get this feel­ing from sounds and sce­nar­ios, not just touch.”

Ross McCul­loch, di­rec­tor of Third Sec­tor Lab, which of­fers dig­i­tal ser­vices to char­i­ties, claims it is easy to get in­volved. “Set­ting up a YouTube chan­nel is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple, the kit re­quired to shoot full HD video is no longer pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive and mon­etis­ing content is as sim­ple as tick­ing a box in your YouTube set­tings,” he says.

BUT is the sen­sa­tion real? Dr Nick Davis, now se­nior lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy at Manch­ester Metropoli­tan Univer­sity, co-au­thored the first ASMR peer-re­viewed re­search nearly two years ago at Swansea Univer­sity and claims 80 per cent of those watch­ing ex­pe­ri­ence a mea­sur­able in­crease in well­be­ing, last­ing sev­eral hours.

“It’s a bit like the brain equiv­a­lent of go­ing for a run,” ex­plains Davis. One the­ory is that the fo­cused at­ten­tion pro­vided by ASMR works sim­i­larly to ma­ter­nal groom­ing, tap­ping in to a pri­mal urge. Davis de­scribes it as a “very re­laxed state of in­ti­macy that you might have ex­pe­ri­enced in child­hood” and claims it’s about bond­ing. “You might spec­u­late it’s why apes per­form so­cial groom­ing rit­u­als,” he adds.

Now we are ful­fill­ing those needs dig­i­tally. “In that way I sup­pose you could find the com­par­i­son to porn in that we are turn­ing to on­line ex­pe­ri­ences to re­place real life ones,” says Davis.

There is a darker side of ASMR, with some claim­ing the videos, which largely fea­ture young, beau­ti­ful women, can be dis­turbingly fetishis­tic. But, claims Davis, the re­search doesn’t bear that out. While 98 per cent re­ported turn­ing to videos to help them re­lax, only five per cent said they found them sex­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing.

“Some of the videos can be a bit weird or even creepy,” he says. “When I first called some up as part of my re­search I did won­der what I would think. But those ap­pear­ing in the videos are the ones mak­ing them so there’s no ex­ploita­tive el­e­ment here.”

ASMR artists agree. Elsa claims it is those who don’t ex­pe­ri­ence ASMR who mis­un­der­stand the in­ten­tion, par­tic­u­larly as YouTube’s al­go­rithms pri­ori­tise the more sen­sa­tion­al­ist videos.

“The sen­sa­tion is com­pletely non-sex­ual, and al­most all content within the genre re­flects this,” she says. “How­ever, a mi­nor­ity will at­tempt to sex­u­alise it to garner views. This is un­for­tu­nate, but it is an in­ter­net-wide prob­lem.”

More re­search to ex­plain the mech­a­nisms be­hind the process will help des­tig­ma­tise it, she claims, and there is an in­creas­ing num­ber of aca­demics in both the US and the UK work­ing on that. But what­ever the mech­a­nisms, for the mil­lions out there log­ging on, it’s all about the tin­gles.

Lauren set up YouTube chan­nel Scot­tish Mur­murs af­ter she left univer­sity, and is now mak­ing £1,000 a month from it Pho­to­graph: Ste­wart Atwood

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