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ASMR: The Relaxing Sound That Brings on Sweet Dreams

Although midterms are over, many Kingos may be still suffering from the aftermath of the exams and their seemingly never-ending assignments. During these tiring days, some Kingos might relieve their stress by listening to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) which is known to be a home remedy that helps people to relax and fall asleep. Many people who started to listen to ASMR for its relaxing effects now are looking for sounds that give positive feelings. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces what ASMR is, examines frequently asked questions about it, and looks into improvements of ASMR.

All About ASMR

What Is ASMR?

Ear-Cleaning ASMR Video of the First Korean ASMR Content Creator Miniyu

ASMR is not a scientific or academic word but was coined on the Internet to refer to sounds that makes people feel better, like sounds of turning pages or combing hair. Although no scientific causal relationship has been discovered yet, ASMR is known to stimulate brains to induce psychological stability through auditory stimuli. These auditory stimuli include the sounds that make people relax in their daily lives, like whispering sounds and ear-cleaning sounds. Before ASMR sounds appeared, there were several cases that used the relaxing effects of sounds. For example, MC Square devices, which used to be popular in the 1990s, use both lights and sound to give psychological stability and improve the concentration of listeners. White noise was known to improve concentration as well, blending the external sounds into the overall background noise.

MC Square Appearing in Korean Drama Reply 1994

ASMR is an improved version of them with developed media, like the video sharing website YouTube and digital audio file-sharing services like podcasts. According to a study by Incross, a mobile and convergence company in Korea, ASMR content was the second most viewed content on YouTube with about 32 million views in 2017, following cover song content. ASMR is a quite recent type of content that people have begun to create around the world after the term ASMR was coined in 2010. In Korea, ASMR content have been created and consumed since Korean YouTuber Miniyu first appeared and uploaded ASMR videos in 2013.

Trigger: The Secret of ASMR

Wood Tapping ASMR Video(left) Aloe Eating Sound ASMR Video(right)

Triggers are the stimuli that give ASMR listeners a pleasant feeling of tingles. Tingles are relaxing feelings which are similar to the pleasing feeling of chills or waves on the body. As everyone’s personal trigger is known to be different from person to person, there are a variety of triggers to give tingles to many different people. For instance, sounds of objects are common trigger sounds which are created by tapping or scratching the objects made of various materials including plastic bags and wood. ASMR content creators make triggers by using various objects in various ways, such as playing with slime and kinetic sand, and carving and lathering soap. Mouth sounds are also popular triggers which include whispering, repeating trigger words like “sksk,” and eating sounds of chewy or crunchy foods like aloe and crackers. Role-play ASMR content uses triggers from both objects and mouths, like hair salon role-play ASMR consisting of scissor sounds and whispering. Other than these triggers, ASMR content creators, who are called “ASMRtists,” keep developing various and unique trigger sounds. Most of their ASMR sounds use binaural sound effects, which are known as three-dimensional (3D) sounds or immersive spatial sounds, in order to give the sense of space by increasing and decreasing the volume of each side of earphones at different times.

Background Story of ASMR

The Reasons Why People Listen to ASMR

These days, many people are under lots of stress due to excessive study and work, which may cause chronic fatigue and even sleeping disorders. In order to relieve their stress, some people try listening to ASMR content with their smartphones as a way to pause their busy lives. As it became more and more popular, there was a psychological experiment about ASMR effects. In 2015, two psychology researchers from Swansea University in Wales conducted a survey of 475 people to study the impact of ASMR content on listeners. Most participants of the study answered that they felt better with tingles when listening to ASMR content. In the meantime, Jeong Deok-hyun, a Korean culture critic, interprets the popularity of ASMR content from a different point of view. He argues that as people become tired of information overload on social media these days, they have started to consume simple content without any information, like ASMR content of repetitive tapping and whispering.

Lack of Scientific Evidence and Possible Side Effects

Although many people seem to feel psychologically stable while listening to ASMR sounds, there is no scientific or medical evidence about the relaxing effects of ASMR. Some experts suppose that ASMR sounds may slow down the brain waves of listeners so that their brain waves can become as slow as sleeping people’s, but there is no scientific evidence. Doctor Kim Lae-hyun of the Center for Bionics at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) claims that despite the absence of academic evidence, a few experiments have shown that delta brain waves, which are associated with relaxation and sleep, are increased when listening to ASMR. This effect, however, does not happen to everyone. Although there is no clear scientific evidence of the effects of ASMR, many people still listen to ASMR believing its relaxing effects. Excessively listening to ASMR sounds, however, may cause some side effects.

KIST and Donga Science conducted an experiment of six people, which showed that ASMR increased delta waves in their brains.

When people listen to ASMR sounds for a long time with earphones, their hearing ability could be degraded. Moreover, if people listen to ASMR every time they sleep and or take a break, it may result in their excessive reliance on ASMR. Another form of sleeping disorders may occur, which makes people unable to sleep or feel relaxed without listening to ASMR sounds.

Improvements of ASMR

Visualized ASMR

Hand Movement ASMR Video

Since a lot of ASMR videos have been uploaded on YouTube, they contain not only auditory stimuli but also visual ones. In particular, role-play ASMR videos show realistic hand movement from a first-person perspective (1PP). Also, ASMR videos of eating edible chalk or colored paper offer unique eating sounds and make viewers curious about eating things that seem inedible. Moreover, there are many videos that focus on hand movements as visualized triggers rather than using auditory triggers. In these hand movement ASMR videos, ASMRtists usually move their hands slowly to give the viewers the feeling of being touched. Not only hand movements but relaxing pictures, like the pictures of nature, are also used with the sounds of nature for visualized ASMR videos. As most ASMR sounds use 3D binaural sound effects, 360-degree ASMR videos appear to enable viewers to watch videos from every perspective. This technology could make role-play ASMR videos more realistic by decorating the background in accordance with the theme of the video. If ASMR develops to be more vivid, virtual reality (VR) technology may be able to combine with ASMR videos in the near future, which may offer a realistic auditory and visual experience simultaneously.

ASMR Expanding to Various Fields

ASMR Trailor of Korean Movie Fengshui

As ASMR became a trend, it has been used in various elds including advertisements and entertainment. In most ASMR advertisements, only a product and a model appear to focus on delivering auditory stimuli without other elements like subtitles. For example, an ASMR advertisement for a skin-care product focuses on the sound of it being applied on the skin to emphasize its moisturizing function. Also, ASMR is used to promote newly released songs and movies. The Korean movie Fengshui, which was released in September 2018, uploaded ASMR profiles of the main characters with narrations of the actors and the sound of nature. Moreover, ASMR is used in entertainment content which was considered to have totally different characteristics from ASMR. For example, After Mom Falls Asleep is a popular Korean ASMR web series, where Korean celebrities like Twice and Winner quietly cook and eat food while trying not to exceed certain decibels (dB). It is an ASMR series with celebrities’ whispering and eating sounds, which makes viewers laugh to watch celebrities struggling not to make a loud noise.

Winner is cooking at ASMR web series After Mom Falls Asleep.

Although there is no scientific evidence on its effects yet, the popularity of ASMR has continued to grow. In addition to its relaxing effects, ASMR has been developing further to entertain people. During sleepless autumn nights, it might be nice for Kingos to listen to ASMR for either relaxation or fun, while being careful about the side effects of excessive listening

정선우  jsw5861@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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