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9 things you need to know about ASMR

Saw Asst Prof Ross Williams explaining the concept of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) on our #NTUsg IG Story? We took your questions for the School of Art, Design & Media sound expert (and NTU’s very own Christian Bale!), and added a few of our own
by Chrystal Chan

Will we see you as the next Batman in the newest DC Universe movie?

Maybe, maybe not. Rumour has it I am also considering the role of Loki in the Marvel Universe. 😂

What types of sounds do you 🙅‍♂️ the most?

The sound of the television while I’m working out at the gym drives me nuts. I don’t mind piped music or even the “oomf” or “aggg” sounds made by people working out around me. Just not the drone of the 📺.

Why do some sounds that my friends love seem to irritate me so much? 😒

Your response to a sound depends on the nature of that sound and the context in which you hear it. What is acceptable to you depends on your previous experiences. My dad hated the sound of people chewing their food, so I grew up in an environment where I didn’t hear or make any eating noises. It bugs me now when I hear loud chewing.

How is the science of sound used in movies?

Most of us have a very similar response to certain sounds. We tend to find the sound of rain pleasant and calming, while the sound of nails on a chalkboard might make us cringe. These common associations are often used in movies to elicit certain reactions in audiences. For example, the sound of a child crying or in distress has a similar alarming effect on most of us, and so you may hear it in a horror movie.

Why do I get goose bumps when I hear a particular song?

Music can create a wide range of physiological effects in us. Other than goose bumps, you can get a tingle down your spine. You can also suddenly feel very sad if you hear the song you have associated with a sad event as it can be a powerful trigger for memory. It’s interesting because the effect seems to stay the same no matter how many times you listen to it. Music stimulates the motor cortex in the brain, so that’s why you’ll find yourself tapping your feet to fast, rhythmic tunes. 🎵

What’s one thing about sound that most people don’t realise?

For those of us who can hear, it has to be the fact that you can’t block out sound the way you can close your 👀 and stop yourself from seeing. Even if you wear very good noise-cancelling earplugs, you’ll still hear your heartbeat or the sound of your blood rushing through your veins. Your body becomes your soundtrack. All your life, your brain is constantly processing all the auditory information you get.

Why are ASMR videos so popular on YouTube?

I imagine they are so popular because they are in some ways quite curious. The amplified sounds are not something you would normally be privileged to hear. The physiological effects they produce in many listeners are pleasurable ones. Additionally, there’s a huge visual aspect to it. These sounds are usually accompanied by extreme close-ups of things. I wonder if the ASMR effect would be as strong if the images are replaced by a black screen and all you hear are the sounds. It’s an area to explore.

How do I explain ASMR to my friends who don’t get it?

Tell them it is a form of synaesthesia, where one of your senses triggers a response in another, and that the tingling sensation you sometimes get can also help you feel less anxious. Better yet, get them to experience it themselves, because not everyone likes the same ASMR sounds. You may get pins and needles down your spine when you hear the tapping of fingernails on a table, but it might do nothing for someone else who might be calmed by the delicate sound of turning pages or by light brushing. Possibly everyone has that one sound that triggers them.

How can I get the best ASMR experience?

You’ll need headphones 🎧. What really amps up the experience is the intimacy of having the sounds directly in your ears, unmediated by the room you are listening in.