Whenever we listen to whispering, we generally feel a tingling sensation. This, together with the high-frequency noises and the online community that is devoted to such noise is collectively called Autonomous sensory meridian response. This is often abbreviated as ASMR.
The same case arises whenever you play a YouTube video and perchance you come across a woman whispering to you. If the said woman also waves at you and waves some makeup brush against the screen, you ought also to feel so.
If on the flip side you do not experience any delicate tingles all over your body, or if your head does not feel relaxed, you do not yet experience the Autonomous sensory meridian response.
As stated, the ASMR is a name that is used to refer to the experience as well as the host of the online community which contends that the tingles they feel ought to be regarded with due seriousness. Most video watchers have argued that the soft sounds alongside the delicate voices they hear have aided them with relaxing. They have also diminished anxiety levels, insomnia, and depression.
A question of science…
Whereas thousands of videos with the theme of ASMR have been posted on YouTube, the experience itself has yet to attain mainstream recognition and acceptance. Those who make such videos refer to themselves as ASMRtists. The discussions around the subject matter, on the other hand, has been more about science and less about art.
This name, Autonomous sensory meridian response, was coined by one Jennifer Allen. She started a grassroots organization called, ASMR Research, with the aim of countering the dearth of attention that medical science had paid to the subject up to that point in time.
Given that there are almost no academic or peer-reviewed studies published on the subject matter, the members of the community have resorted to the Reddit to share the comments or updates of the mainstream press.
At a personal level, I was quite a sceptic of the ASMR for a start. The video which I accessed randomly on YouTube regarding the subject matter did not offer me much help. The video featured a young woman who put on too heavy makeup. She was breathing and speaking too close to the microphone. The videos were certainly not relaxing as they primarily were intended to.
I thereafter decided to reach out to the makers of such videos. They argued that the particular woman in question was not representative of their community. They further stated that most videos were never supposed to be sexual but rather offer some comfort to the viewers besides aiding in sleep.
I deduced that in order to truly comprehend the experiences of the ASMR, I inevitably had to permeate the said community. I hence established my own ASMR channel and started boding with my own fans. I documented these outcomes on the Radiotonic.
What transpired next left me wondering whether there was indeed a viable scientific explanation to this mystery of ASMR.
To find out this, I decided to approach a group of scientists and sound professionals with some apprehension. This is due to the fact that I expected to be laughed away alongside my ever-growing collection of ASMR classic hits.
The sound therapist…
While cruising on a busy highway on the south coast of the New South Wales region. You will come across a peaceful oasis of farmland. This is equipped with some sound production facilities. At this place, some classical music is filtered using some pretty high frequencies. They are subsequently sold to persons who are intent on alleviating stress, tinnitus, vertigo, and a host of other pertinent disorders.
This area also serves as the headquarters of Sound Therapy International. The founder of this farming oasis, one Rafaele Joudry, claims that she grew up watching her mother battle an incapacitating sensitivity to sound.
She had these to say: ‘My mother could not really tolerate any noise that was too loud. If a truck passed by, she just could not handle the cross-currents of noise. She inevitably had to engage in only one conversation at a time.’
The sound therapy had some positive impacts on the quality of her mother’s life. This inspired her to establish a company which engaged in the sales of less-than-mainstream therapy on a global scale.
Generally speaking, sound therapy music is slightly confusing to listen to at first. This earned it the designation ‘gymnastics for the ear’ by Ms Joudry. Her website, as a matter of fact, contains numerous testimonials of clients who support the therapy. I personally am at odds on what exactly to call the practice.
She further adds, ‘Frequencies that are high and gentle are way extremely beneficial. They stimulate and tickle the nerve endings. They also build new connections in the brain.’
I often play Ms Joudry some video from a collection of the most popular ASMR video makes in the YouTube channel. This video features a blonde woman whose stage name is Gentle Whispering.
“I am pretty sure that there is some common ground,” Ms Joudry asserts. This is because ASMR and sound therapy are two great ways to bring about some concentrated and high frequency sounds to the ears. They also channel the same to the awareness and play crucial roles in stimulating the brain. I am certain there has to be a parallel in the impacts they both bring about.
Stephen Porges is a neuroscientist who is based in the USA. His life is centred on the exploration of the impacts which human intonations can impose on physiology. Even though he is based in the University of North Carolina, he claims that his most recent projects involve working with the Australian Childhood Foundation to aid children who have trauma and abuse histories.
“Whenever people are traumatized, their bodies literally adapt to detect predators. They also experience certain difficulties in processing human speech,” he argues. He further adds, “Whatever we are attempting to do is to restore that.” His own research, as a matter of fact, incorporates the modulation of vocal sounds to enable them to be more productive.
“Each person understands from the olden days of love ballads and folk music, this is how you tone people down. You may also use mother’s lullaby or nursery rhymes,” he adds.
“These sounds are the high frequency in nature. They also act as air condition and require some structures in the middle ear to transmit.” He further says. In light of this, these sounds engage the muscles which in turn stimulate the little bones. Whenever those muscles begin to operate, they alter the neural regulations of the heart. In turn, the heart rate slows and the calming of the system results.
He also accepted to watch an ASMR video prior to the commencement of the conversation. He also confided to me that he believes that the makers of those videos make use of the sound and intonation in ways that are very seductive.
Before I pay too much attention to the microphone issue, Dr Porges further states: “When I state that the sound and intonation are seductive, I do not necessarily mean that they are sexual. Instead, I mean it triggers the sensations of safety in the affected persons.”
It is hence not so much of an accident that most of the ASMR video makers are in fact, women. He further adds, “The frequency band of the female vocalization is generally higher. It is also that frequency which our nervous system evolved to be able to safely detect. Even the classical composers comprehended this immediately when they came up with their own symphonies. They did so by making use of the ‘female voice’ or the violin.”
‘It so happens that this is a component of our culture and history. Its aim is to highlight safety via the voice of a melodic female.’
“By using a totally different theoretical model, we are able to come up with some objective measures and functionality which have the potential to ascertain whether ASMR indeed was experiencing some change in our physiology. The same model can also determine whether ASMR is attaining any headway insofar as the enhancement of our capability of processing human speech is concerned. My conjecture is that it might have some significance at that said level.”
The physiologist and ASMR fan…
If there is one person who is wholly optimistic of the ability of ASMR to impact human physiology, that person is Craig Richard. He is a professor Shenandoah University in Virginia. He instantly recognized the description of the relaxing tingles as soon as he heard about the ASMR for the first time.
Much the same way as the others who have experienced ASMR, the YouTube videos brought to the fore a feeling he had first experienced while still a child. At that time, he found himself mesmerized and sedated by the melodious tones of Bob Ross, who was an American television presenter. He hosted a show concerning painting in the 1980s and the early ‘90s.
A host of other triggers still soothe him into a state of complete relaxation. These include his doctor who listens to the heartbeat using a stethoscope or the washing of his hair by a qualified hairdresser.
“I am now bald. That is the part I seem to miss most concerning my hair,” says Dr Richard.
On finding too little information about academic research on the topic, Dr Richard decided to go ahead and develop what he terms as the ‘Origin Theory’ of the ASMR.
“I had been studying physiology for my career for quite some time now. I had never heard anything about the ASMR. Moreover, I had never pondered the full import of the relaxed feeling I would obtain in response to some stimuli,” he asserts.
As he skimmed the rotation of attractive and gentle whisperers who featured in the AMSR videos, Dr Richard started feeling some comfort.
“My first thought was,” Dr Richard says, “Does this originate from infancy?”
By further investigating the prevailing scientific literature, he came across studies which showed babies experienced some release of endorphins whenever they were in close contacts with their parents. These endorphins gave off some pleasurable responses besides eliciting some feelings of safety.
A pretty much the same physiological process arose in the bonding between close friends and the aromatic partners. In all the cases, these studies deduced that individuals who were intimately bonded also exuded the oxytocin hormones which boosted the receptivity of the endorphins.
“You are subsequently more likely to experience those tingles,” Dr Richard says.
‘Even those persons in the said videos have somewhat trusting personalities,’ he further argues. They just appear to be persons who simply want to be friends who you would want to be intimate with.
He now contends that instead of the ASMR being its unique physiological pathway, it is simply that tingle which arises inside of you whenever you are in a comfortable circumstance. It often involves another individual.
Dr Richard further went on to create a blog entitled ASMR University. The aim of the blog is to elicit further discussions on the science that form the bedrock of the entire experience. In his capacity as a professor at Shenandoah University’s School of Pharmacy, his main interest is the pursuit of clinical studies. Specifically, he is interested in the effects of ASMR on insomnia, mood or stress disorders as well as the conservative pharmaceutical treatments.
“The long-term consequence could be that after thorough research and the appropriate clinical studies, it might be possible to deduce that people could make use of less medication when they incorporate some ASMR in their treatment regime.” Dr Richard asserts. He further says, “It could particularly be great for patients who suffer the consequences of high doses of medication.”
There now appears to be some excess interests arising from the research that is currently being conducted on the subject matter of ASMR. As we speak, a graduate thesis which is currently being drafted by an American post-baccalaureate fellow, one Bryson Lochte, is yet to be published in a relevant scientific journal. This is according to a recent article in the New York Times.
In the meantime, a pre-PhD student at the Swansea University, one Emma Barratt, is presently drafting an article which explores the patterns she observes between ASMR and synesthesia.
Lastly, the community-led website, ASMR Research, has also sent out invitations to volunteers to take part in a survey which aims at documenting the experiences and impact of ASMR. This survey is slated for publishing in the non-peer-reviewed results this month. This is according to one team member, Karissa Burgess.