The media loves to explore the new world of ASMR, but it doesn’t always get it right.
Hands up if you watch ASMR videos? I know I do. I didn’t know ASMR as a thing until Bristol-born comedian Russell Howard introduced me to this “absurd” phenomenon in one of his sketches. After that, I was hooked!
What Is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Explained briefly, ASMR is that pleasurable, tingly sensation in our scalp and neck that lots of us experience in response to a particular trigger or sound. For example, it could be:
- Gentle whispering
- Tapping fingernails on wood or glass
- Crinkling paper, plastic or linen
- Eating sounds
- Personal attention, such as a doctor’s visit or an eye exam
It’s important to understand here that a person’s particular triggers will largely depend on life experiences. For example, someone who’s best friend or sister used to pamper them might enjoy makeover roleplays, someone who used to have a parent read them bedtime stories may enjoy gentle whispering, and so on. For me personally, hairdressing roleplays (I have had the same marvellous hairdresser since childhood!) and crinkly plastic sounds are huge triggers. My Nan used to fold plastic bags into little squares to store them, so the gentle crinkle of plastic now takes me back to a very warm, safe and happy place. Keep this in mind, because it helps us to better understand this phenomenal experience, and the minds of the many people who benefit from it.
The Hidden Benefits of ASMR
In today’s modern world, a lot of people are wracked with anxiety. Anxiety can wreak havoc on all parts of our lives, but none quite moreso than our sleep. For a lot of people, ASMR serves the same purpose as relaxation videos and guided meditations – it’s another great way of helping us pop off to sleep.
But ASMR has yet another, seldom understood benefit.
Not only does ASMR help us relax enough to get some shut-eye, but “the tingles” have been associated with dopamine release. As the listener listens to sounds which many might find absurd or even strange, the listener is effectively and naturally combatting their own anxiety and depression – sans medication!
So this is why I get so annoyed when I see ASMR being mocked, laughed at and used in the media to advertise a product. You see, at the heart of every ASMR video is the creator’s intention.
Unlike meditation, ASMR videos and media are often made in such a way that the viewer feels as though the creator is engaging with them and caring for them, one-to-one. Through carefully applied camera angles, positioning and sentences, the viewer can feel as though the creator is really touching them or engaging with them in some way. There is a lot of time, effort, creativity and specialist equipment that goes into making genuine ASMR media and the best ones are not simply videoed content using a budget web camera and microphone. Most creators start off with a Blue Yeti USB microphone, with a starting price of about £100. A sensitive binaural microphone is necessary in order to be able to give the viewer the truly immersive experience which a mono microphone simply won’t be able to deliver. Trust me, I tried – and I invested!
What It Takes To Make ASMR: In The Media
In an episode of British TV media show This Morning, Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby discussed ASMR and interviewed Youtube ASMR creator Emma Smith (WhispersRed), and even had a go at creating ASMR themselves. Whilst it was most certainly a good effort, they failed to understand one thing – whispered ASMR isn’t just whispering, it’s much softer and much more focused. As another example of ASMR-gone-wrong (or so I believe) is this Head & Shoulders advertorial, featuring Claudia Winkleman. You see? The intention of the media here is to sell the product, rather than focusing on the sounds. The product is the focus here, rather than the viewer. It is why, I believe, the ASMR intentions here simply do not work.
As a, shall we say, an attempted ASMRtist, I understand that the key to good ASMR media is gentle whispering, slowed syllables and proper annunciation. Nothing hits the ear worse for the listener than an aggressive, whispered “H” – It’s breathy, it’s creepy and it’s not relaxing at all. K, Q, S and T are all popular sounds, but again, only very softly. Nobody wants to feel like they’re stuck in bed at night with a terrifying bedtime stalker!
I understand that for a lot of people, ASMR can feel pornographic, and sadly, it is frequently dubbed as “whisper porn”. It’s intense, it typically feels very personal and there are creators out there who create questionable, not-quite-pornographic ASMR.; a bit too much cleavage here, a tight costume or phallic food choice there, you get the idea. What’s more, I myself have noticed a strong connection between the ASMR community and the BDSM community. Whilst that’s not to say that ASMR isn’t ever unintentionally sexual (and certainly videos can stir up some unintentional sexual feelings) most creators don’t intend for it to be that way. Maybe it’s an intense stare or a rather attractive artist, humans are humans, we can’t force ourselves to feel a particular feeling. Some creators do also put a small disclaimer on their videos to clarify that the video is intended for relaxation, but watch it for whatever you like. My personal favourite, which may or may not illicit such feelings and which also features such a caption, is this one. It’s very immersive and as someone who has been in and out of hospital a lot, it’s nice to have a pleasant, relaxing medical experience for a change!
And When It’s Not Very Tingly At All
In lockdown last year, I watched an episode of The Big Night In with Romesh Ranganathan and in it, he invited a number of his guests to make an attempt at ASMR. Bless them, there were some good attempts but they were also some so, so far off of the mark. ASMR is not simply “this thing makes a noise. Let me use it to make noises next to this highly-sensitive microphone and see what happens”, followed by periodically asking the viewer if they are relaxed yet. ASMR is about soft, gentle, intentional noises. ASMR is about developing a connection with the viewer (think less creepy stalker, more best friend) and it is about caring for your viewers’ mental welfare. Many ASMRtists take the time to understand conditions like anxiety and depression and the sounds and tools that can be used to encourage viewers to take better care of themselves. Furthermore. ASMRtists typically don’t just care about making videos and media content, it is a person-to-person experience whereby the creator really cares about the people who engage with their content and treat them as close friends or family. It is also not uncommon for ASMRtists to quit all of a sudden because they are so mentally drained with how much personal attention that they put into doting on their audience – something that a beauty or travel vlogger might not experience as much.
It is normal to mock what we don’t understand, but as we come to accept and understand one another for our sexuality, genders and race, I urge you too to understand that relaxation doesn’t necessarily look the same for everyone. Some people do fall asleep to birdsong and classical music, whilst others of us prefer to sleep to soothing interrogation roleplays and tapping on cardboard boxes.
Do you watch ASMR videos? Have they ever helped you? I’d be interested to read your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time,
Stay safe & have fun,