The potential of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) – the collective term for a series of physiological and psychological responses to sensorial stimuli such as whispering, tapping and scratching – to induce wellbeing in a host of different contexts was the subject of a presentation during the Audio Engineering Society’s Virtual Vienna online conference in early June.
Claudia Nader Jamie from the University of York outlined the current state of research surrounding autonomous sensory meridian response. Increasingly, she noted, scientists and researchers are acting on user reports about ASMR-inducing media helping them to cope with stress and decrease mild mental disorders, including anxiety, depression and insomnia. In the longer-term it is expected that there will be a greatly enhanced “understanding of the potential causes and benefits of this experience in people’s wellbeing”.
Study found that 98% of participants associated ASMR with relaxation
ASMR is also enjoying a growing profile online thanks to user-generated videos and more professionally produced content made by ASMRtists, as these media producers are often referred to. More and more, this content is being produced using binaural recording, which is a method of capturing sound that uses two microphones arranged with the intention of creating a 3D stereo sound sensation for the listener.
Jamie pointed out that research is now taking place to explore the validity of the assertion that using binaural sound “might be related to potentially stronger ASMR experiences, and thus more health benefits.”
The potential application of ASMR to public environments, such as retail facilities and communal areas in offices, is a tantalising prospect, but one that is complicated by “different people responding to triggers from specific sounds in different ways”. For example, some people might be calmed by noises such as rattling, brushing and various natural world sounds, whereby they “experience a tingling sensation that goes through the scalp, neck, limbs and so on, and is followed by a deep sense of relaxation.” But for others it could be mildly disquieting or even have an adverse impact.
82% of those engaging with ASMR reported that they had experienced improved sleep
It therefore follows that ASMR could continue to be primarily an individual experience revolving around headphones, especially with the acute need to avoid instances of misophonia – a condition in which negative emotions, thoughts and physical reactions are triggered by specific sounds. But the effective harnessing of ASMR grows in importance when one considers studies such as that issued by Barratt and Davis in 2015. Drawing on the comments of 475 participants, the study found that 98% associated ASMR with relaxation, while 82% of those engaging with ASMR reported that they had experienced improved sleep. Meanwhile, 70% of respondents said that ASMR made it easy for them to cope with stress.
“Those kinds of statistics are very difficult to argue with,” noted Jamie, who added that there was also some indication that ASMR might be correctly positioned “on the synaesthesia spectrum, with misophonia at the opposite extreme to ASMR.” But she is certain that this will remain a target of considerable research as the amount of anecdotal evidence mounts up: “Whenever I read about ASMR online there are always comments from people about how it has helped them with insomnia, depression and a number of other conditions.”
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