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ASMR : The Sound that Gives you a Thrill or a Warm Hug

My old grandmother never lets me turn off the television, even when she almost falls asleep. When I'm about to pick up the remote control, she says in a calm voice, "I'm not sleeping yet darling." I don't think it is only my experience, but many others also have had this kind of memory. It probably seems that aged people cannot fall asleep without television noise. Besides the elderly, there are many people who have trouble sleeping at night, especially college students, office workers, and people who have too much stress. As what my grandmother does, they use special videos to get to sleep. They find their own triggering sounds to fall asleep to, and consume Youtube videos called “ASMR”.

Generally ASMR is known as audio or video clips that Youtube creators make of particular sounds. In the early days, "relaxing sounds" or "meditation sounds" were more general on Youtube. Relaxing sounds refers to the sounds of nature, like raining and thunderstorms, ocean waves, forest sounds and waterfalls. People watch these videos to fall asleep easily or to concentrate on studying because gentle background sound is more helpful to create an atmosphere for sleeping or studying than just silence. For the same reason, many students go to cafes to study with some small noise .

These kind of sounds are called "ambient* noise" or "white noise". People easily search for relaxing sounds on Youtube and help themselves by making the certain atmosphere they like. Relaxing video clips are usually played for several hours with static images. Viewers just play it in the background and do something else. But as demand of these particular sounds has increased and many more people look for their specific tastes of relaxing sounds, these kind of videos have been diversed by sound creators. Relaxing sounds such as nature sounds are differed from ASMR because ASMR is subdivided into artificial sounds that creates a tingling sensation on the skin.

ASMR is the abbreviation for 'Autonomous Sensory Meridian* Response'. In the beginning, there were some more nominees for this special feeling of satisfaction when hearing certain sounds. "Brain orgasm", "brain massage", "head tingle" or "spine tingle" are among them. The term 'ASMR' was first used by Jennifer Allen, who founded the ASMR Facebook Group in 2010. It sounds like very difficult medical terminology, however it was no such thing, but just a newly coined word. There is no medical evidence that such sounds affect autonomic nerves in the human body. The term just wanted to give nuance to"when you sense these sounds, you will instinctively feel euphoria*." It succeeded to give people the conviction that this kind of reaction really exists. Also it contributed to the popularity of ASMR content.

Actually, one reason people consume ASMR content is because they feel "tingling" when they watch these videos. The term "tingling" literally means the sensation of slight prickles, stings, or tremors, as from cold, a sharp blow, excitement, etc. When it comes to ASMR, tingling is another expression for "Meridian Response". Stimuli which causes "tingling" is called a "trigger". Each individual has a different stimulus preference. Here are the different types of "triggers".

• whispering, softly speaking, lip smacking

• eating, drinking, chewing, slurping, crunching

• tapping, scratching, brushing, turning pages,

• ear cleaning, ear blowing

• role playing

Sounds of whispering, slurping, or tapping can be easily imagined, but what is role playing? It is assumed that the viewer is a client who receives a service like massage, haircut, counseling, or psychotherapy. With this assumption, an ASMRtist(compound word of "ASMR" and "artist") offers an audiovisual virtual environment. Some people experience "tingling" in these situations.

How about ear cleaning? How do ASMRtists make the sounds of cleaning ears? To maximize stimuli so that viewers can be more sensitive to it, they use a special recording technique, which is called "binaural recording". Binaural recording is a method of using two microphones, arranged with the intent to create a 3-dimensional stereo sound sensation for the listener. This effect is often created using a "dummy head", a mannequin head which is outfitted with a microphone in each ear. Of course it enhances the immersion of role playing. Sound recorded with this dummy head makes viewers feel as if they were right on the spot where the recording was made.

Who mostly consumes ASMR content? Most ASMR videos on Youtube feature inducing sleep by whispering or only with triggering sounds. It can be interpreted that most viewers look for these videos to help themselves fall asleep. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that ASMR videos help people overcome their sleep disorder. What is even worse is that it can cause side effects. You can be addicted to it. If you are exposed constantly to auditory stimuli continuously, there will be no more inspiration later to any stimulus. The worst case is that you become too addicted to these stimuli, so that you can not sleep without ASMR videos.

Another problem is the degeneration of the content. You may notice that 'lip smacking' or 'ear licking' can be changed into a somewhat sexual activity and it really became so. There is sexual content using ASMR flooding onto Youtube with little restriction. Some action must be taken not to misuse ASMR with harmful content.

ASMR is now used in TV commercials also. "Ritz" crackers from Dongsuh Foods was the first TV commercial film ASMR was applied to. With its symbolic red-colored background, the model focuses on sounds that Ritz makes. The rustling sound of its wrapping and crisp sounds when the model bites and eats one. Those sounds are very effective to allure people to go straight to the supermarket and get some crackers. KyungDong Pharm also recently released a new commercial film (CF) of their painkiller product 'Gnal-N Tab' featuring IU. In the CF, IU is whispering in a very low and soft voice, "please don't be sick." This video was so loved by people that many versions have been newly made. As the advertising industry is very sensitive to trends, it shows that ASMR is still very influential on people.

There has been appeared a reality show "Little Cabin in the Woods" which tvN broadcasts. This TV show invites guests to small cabins in the forest, and lets him or her live without so many connections to their real life. Being left in a calm and slow forest, they begin to pay attention to little sounds around them. Viewers also assimilate with the show guests, and with nature's sounds. Na Youngseok, the producer of the show said that his program aims to comfort people when they want to fall asleep without any disturbance, but with a can of beer and the TV turned on.

Those examples above prove how ASMR can make people feel better. But yet, there is no scientific or medical evidence to prove it. Always, too much is worse than just a little. If you have found the sound you like, I'd suggest it's better to enjoy in small doses to avoid becoming addicted.

* ambient : In sound recording, ambience consists of the sounds of a given location or space.

* meridian : Jennifer Allen used the term 'meridian' to refine the term 'orgasm'.

* euphoria : Euphoria is a feeling of intense happiness and excitement.

Yoo Da Young  dpqxkaa@gmail.com

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