Why YouTubers Insulting Their Viewers Makes Them Feel Good

  • ASMR videos create pleasurable feelings through sensory triggers, like stroking a microphone.
  • A new sub-genre does the same thing, while being insulting or mean to viewers for comedic effect.
  • Viewers and experts explain why ‘mean ASMR’ videos can create an enhanced experience.

“Can you not knock my stuff over please? Just, like, once in your life can you not be such an idiot?” whispers Kate Henderson at her viewers in a 17-minute YouTube titled “ASMR – B*tchy friend does your makeup.” Since it was posted in 2016, her video has received over 1.5 million views.

Henderson’s video is one of the first of what has come to be known as the “mean ASMR” genre. It’s a twist on the YouTube trend of ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. ASMR videos aim to almost hypnotize a viewer into relaxation, layering various “triggers,” or sensory stimuli meant to activate a soothing response to your brain, or create what viewers sometimes describe as “tingles.”

The “triggers” performed in these videos often include soft whispering, stroking, or particularly evocative sounds, such as tapping on a metal water bottle. Researchers at Northumbria University in England found in a study conducted in 2018 that watching ASMR can reduce some people’s heart rates in a way comparable to relaxation methods like


mindfulness

and music-based therapy.

ASMR

 

Whipering and stroking are common ASMR triggers.

Yulia Lisitsa/Getty Images

The “mean ASMR roleplay” trend is the latest iteration of the genre, and encompasses videos that feature creators being mean or rude towards the viewer in some way. Although somewhat counter-intuitive, they are extremely popular — a Google search for “mean ASMR role play” yields over 200,000 results, and the videos can amass hundreds of thousands and even millions of views.

Insider spoke to creators, viewers, and experts to figure out whether watching people be mean to you can really make you feel more relaxed.

Creators enjoy the opportunity to merge comedy with ASMR

ASMR content creators, also known as “ASMRtists,” told Insider the opportunity for creative comedy is part of what drew them to mean ASMR.

Henderson, for example, was driven to make her 2016 video after seeing another user make a mean roleplay and, confused, she clicked on it.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Henderson says. “There’s a huge entertainment factor.” She told Insider that for her, the ASMR aspect often feels like the “easy part” of the video, which leaves her able to concentrate more on perfecting the entertainment side of the content.

Trevor Weiskopf, an ASMRtist known as Dean ASMR who is popular for his over-the-top roleplay videos had a similar experience. Weiskopf told Insider his first exposure to mean ASMR was a “worst reviewed makeup artists” video, in which the creator acted out the character of a worker with terrible and negligent customer service. As he watched, he said he felt a pull to try it himself — most of his videos already had an element of comedy to them, so the transition felt natural. He began making his own mean ASMR content in 2018, finding that many of his viewers enjoyed the videos and would comment on them more than his other videos.

Oceanna Fayant-Barz, an ASMRtist known as Oceans ASMR who makes mean girl roleplays, told Insider it was “nice to be able to switch it up and be silly” with mean ASMR, as she frequently has viewers message her about their problems, which is said can be “heavy.”

Viewers seem to connect with the lighter side of ASMR

Weiskopf and Fayant-Barz both find their subscribers interact a lot with these caricature roleplay videos, and will often comment on the funny parts. Weiskopf told Insider the exaggerated and “bold” nature of the videos keeps viewers’ attention, and to stay successful in the ASMR space, you need to have a sense of humor.

“It’s kind of like watching a TV show,” says Weiskopf. “It’s still relaxing, but I’m still throwing in jokes and stuff.”

Chloe Townley, who frequently watches mean ASMR videos, told Insider she treats them as white noise or a form of company. She explained they make her laugh “more than anything,” but she also reaps the benefits of traditional ASMR.

“What triggers ASMR sensations specifically is the stuff that can be found in other non-mean videos — the tapping, the personal attention, everything,” Townley said, adding that the humorous aspect made it more enjoyable to watch.

Henderson agreed that the effect of ASMR in these videos is a key part of the experience. “Take a mean ASMR video but eliminate the ASMR aspect so it’s just someone insulting a viewer at normal volume, and who wants to watch that?” she said.

Woman laughing at her ;laptop

 

Viewers seem to enjoy the humorous aspect to mean ASMR videos.

10’000 Hours/Getty Images

The ‘meanness’ may enhance the ASMR experience, according to viewers and experts

According to Dr. Giulia Poerio, a lecturer and researcher in psychology at the University of Essex, the element of surprise contributed to the effects of ASMR, so when someone watches a lot of videos, they can become “desensitized” to its effects. But the mean roleplay can help create a sense of unexpectedness, helping frequent ASMR consumers experience more intense results.

Dr. Agnieszka Janik McErlean, a senior lecturer of psychology at Bath Spa University and ASMR researcher, hypothesized that this need for new ASMR stimuli could explain the rise of mean ASMR, which she thinks is popular in part because it’s “novel” and “different.”

Viewers also report that they find the comedic meanness comforting, which could enhance the ASMR experience.

Townley told Insider the videos tap into “that part of my humor that’s very self-deprecating, but not in a way that reinforces low self-image.”

“It actually takes the thing that I may or may not already feel bad about, and turns it into something funny. It’s very transformative in that way,” she said.

Comments sections under ASMR videos are littered with viewers saying the content made them laugh and feel relaxed at the same time.

“I was like ‘yeah my nose is big to be fair’, whilst already almost asleep,” commented one YouTube user on Henderson’s first “mean ASMR” roleplay video, adding, “This is hilarious and relaxing all at once.”

Poerio told Insider that relaxation can lead viewers to be more likely to experience feelings of ASMR, and the comedic element of mean ASMR may be a crucial element in achieving that state.

“What is humor if not a means of relaxation,” Townley said. “Of being able to chill out, laugh at something, laugh at yourself.”

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.

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