This show was written and produced by Carolyn McCulley.

Do certain sounds give you the head tingles? If yes, this episode is full of ear candy for you! In this episode, we learn all about the phenomenon called autonomous sensory meridian response—or ASMR for short. This soothing episode features researchers Giulia Poerio (University of Sheffield), Craig Richard (ASMRuniversity.com), and ASMR artists Gentle Whispering, Jellybean Green, and Somni Rosae - as well as the team at Defacto Sound!


Love is the Flower of Life - Chad Lawson
I Should Be Sleeping - Chad Lawson
All is Truth - Chad Lawson
D's Travels - Uncle Skeleton
Blackout - Stray Theories
Shoreline (No Drums) - Dario Lupo
Timeless - Dario Lupo

20K is hosted by Dallas Taylor and made out of the studios of Defacto Sound.

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View Transcript ▶︎

A couple of quick notes before we start the show. First, this episode is best experienced in a quiet place using good headphones. But, if you can’t do that, I won’t judge, the show still stands on its own. You just might not get the physical reaction. ..and that brings me to point number two: We’re talking about a subject that could possibly give you a physical reaction. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe, and can happen without anyone around you knowing, but you’ll need to be really relaxed in order for it to happen. We’ve put lots of opportunities in this episode to trigger it, and I encourage you to actively think about it and try to experience it. ok, here we go.

[Play “What is ASMR video?”]

Maria: Hello, my name is Maria. And I’m here to tell you about ASMR.

You're listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz. I'm Dallas Taylor.

Maria: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s a pleasant tingling feeling you experience when you hear unique soft voices. Or hear certain soothing sounds, such as tapping. Or both. Like sounds of me whispering or brushing your hair.

[music in]

Depending on your age and internet consumption, you either already know exactly what ASMR is or you have absolutely no idea what’s happening right now.

Jai: ASMR is basically... sounds that trigger almost a tingling sensation for people.

That’s Jai Berger. A Sound Designer here at Defacto Sound.

Jai: Sometimes it’s on the top of their head or on the back of their neck. But it can also be used for as a relaxation tool. And certain sounds are different triggers for different people.

Colin: And honestly, it feels pleasurable. Which, I feel uncomfortable saying that, but it does.

That’s Colin DeVarney. Also a sound designer here at Defacto.

Colin: the things that trigger it are so random and it’s weird to say that I get pleasure from somebody unwrapping a gift or listening to them do a task quietly.

Nick: I don’t partake in the watching of the ASMR videos.

This is Nick Spradlin. Also, a sound designer here at Defacto.

Nick: The virtual haircut or watching any of the ASMR videos, like just everyday sounds, I have no reaction to. Since I was a musician for so long a lot of the stuff I listen to I’ll get chills with certain music, and I never really knew what that was called. And I think that’s ASMR,That’s my knowledge of it now, “Oh I guess that’s what that is”.

Sam, what do you think about this whole thing?

[music out]

Sam: Honestly, it really creeps me out.

For me, it kinda feels like a tingle or a chill that goes up the back of my spine and into my brain.

To get everyone on the same page, we listened to some popular ASMR tracks all together.

[Play ASMR clip]

This one’s close for me, it’s close. Ok Sam, it sounds like you have something to say.

Sam: I really don’t like it.

[Play ASMR clip]

Colin: I actually kinda like this one.

Nick: This is enjoyable.

[Play ASMR clip]

Nick: As weird as this is, I like it for being this weird.

Colin: So this might of triggered my ASMR, but once that guys voice I think is now ruined for me. It just gets me out of it.

[Play ASMR clip]

Oh I like that.

Colin: Me too.

Ok any thoughts?

Colin: I like that one more than most we’ve listened too.

I would just like to point out that Sam looks like she’s about to puke.

Sam: Oh my god, my ear. I don’t like it, it makes me so uncomfortable. Ugh.

Nick: I also disliked that one.

So you disliked it, Sam hated it, Colin and I got the little response, Jai?

Jai: I didn’t get a response, but I found it relaxing.

[Play ASMR clip]

Sam, can you describe what’s happening on screen right now?

Sam: Well, she has these fluffy windscreens on each of the mics and she is caressing them, gently.

Can you describe her facial expression?

Sam: She’s really into it.

[music in]

That last ASMR clip we heard was from one of the top ASMR artists on YouTube. Her name is Maria, and her Youtube moniker is “Gentle Whispering”. In that clip she was whispering, but she also used tapping, brushing, exhaling and even role-playing to make these ASMR triggering sounds. In all, her videos have been viewed and listened to over 438 million times.

Giulia: Maria is an ASMR artist who has one of the highest number of subscribers.

That’s Giulia Poerio, a psychology researcher studying ASMR at the University of Sheffield.

Giulia: I find her personally very relaxing. she has this sort of Russia/American accent. She has amazing hand movements that are incredibly relaxing. She speaks in a very calming way and she's really good at explaining things.

[music out]

[Play clip of Gentle Whispering]

Giulia: It's sort of a tingling sensation that starts at the top of my head and spreads down to my through my limbs, as well. So one way that I really like to think about it is as if somebody has opened a can of fizzy drink under my skin, [SFX: fizzy drink bubbling up] so it's kind of bubbling and it's kind of warm and relaxing.

[SFX out]

Imagine one of those scalp massagers you see in Skymall. You know the one - it looks like an open-ended whisk with thin metal spindles and tiny metal nubs on the ends.

Giulia: You put them down at your head and they're metal little spikes and they move into your scalp, and that's kind of what ASMR feels like. It's very, very relaxing.

[music in]

What's interesting about ASMR is that it's a stimulus in one modality, like sound, that is producing a tactile sensation. So you are experiencing being touched through sound.

People generally fall into one of two categories—they either think that ASMR is something that everybody has and, "Oh, of course everybody experiences this sort of tingling feeling when they hear soft speaking." Or they think that they're the only person that's had it and they don't realize that it's something that other people experience.

[music out]

ASMR became popular with the rise of YouTube. Some credit a thread on Reddit around 2007 where people first started talking about “head tingles” in response to sound. But it really took off when a woman in the U.K. posted the first whispering video on YouTube in 2009. That was under the moniker, “WhisperingLife.”

[Play Whispering Life clip - “Hello, I thought I would make some videos of me whispering. I absolutely love listening to people whisper, which is really, really weird.”]

Guilia: a lot of people when they find out about the ASMR experience and they find out that they can watch these videos on YouTube they're like, "Wow, this is amazing, because this is something that I've experienced all my life and I didn't know that I could go and intentionally experience it."

By 2010, a cybersecurity professional named Jennifer Allen decided this experience needed a more scientific-sounding name. So she coined the ASMR label and created a Facebook group for fans to discuss the experience.

Giulia: I used to go and seek out ASMR experiences before I knew about the ASMR community, so I used to go and seek them out in my everyday life. Once I signed up to a credit card because the woman in the bank [SFX: background chatting] was really relaxing and was going through a form and all these sorts of things [SFX: Paper turning, marker circling] and it was amazing and I found it so relaxing.

I know, it's really odd but the woman was so relaxing. And she was form filling [SFX: pen scratches], and that's one of the triggers, somebody filling out a form. Hotel check in, I love checking into hotels or places. Or I love somebody taking information [SFX: keyboard typing] and typing things in. Yea, It's really relaxing.

I've canceled the credit card so I was aware that it was literally only because I wanted her to carry on talking so much.

Even the advertising world has caught on to the allure of ASMR. Popular brands such as Ikea, KFC and Dove have created advertising produced with intentional ASMR triggers. In this ad for Dove Chocolate in China, a woman crinkles a chocolate wrapper, unwraps it and then pops a piece into her mouth.

[Play Dove Chocolate clip]

[music in]

If companies are using ASMR to sell their products, this must be a credible phenomenon, right? What is the science behind ASMR? Is there any? More on that in a moment.

[music out]


[music in]

ASMR or autonomous sensory meridian response is a physical response to certain sounds. People who have this response often call them head tingles or sparkles.

Craig: I think the biggest term that best describes ASMR is relaxing.

That’s Dr. Craig Richard. He is a professor at Shenandoah University and founder of ASMRuniversity.com.

Craig: Some also will use terms like, it's comforting, and it's soothing. Then, usually associated with that, are head tingles. They're sometimes described as sparkly, and staticky, and for the most part enjoyable. Overall, that just leads to this relaxing, tingly sensation, that for some people it's great for dealing with stress. For other people, they use it to help them fall asleep.

[music out]

Like many people, Craig didn’t immediately connect with the concept when he first heard about it.

Craig: I'm a physiologist. So when I heard this term, I knew that was not a physiological term. I didn't really believe what they were saying, it just sounded like some woo-woo, or made up. Then, they gave an example of something that people who have ASMR find relaxing. They brought up Bob Ross.

[Play Bob Ross clip]

[music in]

Craig: That was when I made the connection for myself. Because I remember being a kid and I would come home from school, flip the channels, come across Bob Ross. I didn't have any interest in painting. I still have never painted. I don't, it's not the painting. It was him. It was his demeanor and disposition. I found it's super relaxing. I would put down a floor pillow, and I would watch him, and I never really saw him complete a painting, because I would end up falling asleep.

I didn't think much of that, until I heard … "Not everyone reacts to Bob Ross like that." I said, "Wow."

It’s still a mystery exactly why anyone experiences ASMR to begin with. But, there are a lot of theories.

Craig: One thing I wonder about is, by looking at a lot of the triggers, and what's common to all these triggers, that do stimulate ASMR in some individuals, is they tend to be a lot of the same kind of triggers that you would use to soothe the baby. So it's whispering, it's talking softly, it's personal attention, it's light touching. All that is very important, from the day we’re born that we have to have some kind of innate response to be soothed by people who care for us.

[music out]

Back when Craig first discovered ASMR, there wasn’t much research. So he decided to do something about that.

Craig: That's when I started the website, ASMRuniversity.com, to kind of put forth some large theories, based upon my understanding of physiology.

We launched the survey a couple years ago and we've had over 23,000 responses. the top responses are they feel relaxed, they feel calmed, they feel soothed, they feel sleepy. We ask them about, what are the physical sensations you feel? Sure enough, tingles is number one and it's occurring in the head. So this is important, because it's confirming what a lot of ASMR artists, and a lot of ASMR consumers are saying. That's important.

[Play ASMR clip - Somni Rosae, ASMR inaudible“Hello, welcome back to the spa. It’s very nice to see you again. It’s been a very long time since you visited the spa”.]

[music in]

Somni: After five years of creating content myself, I've learned that our audience is not just made up of people who have ASMR. It is also people who are sleep-deprived.

That’s Somni Rosae [pronunciation at the front of her video S-ohm-ni Ross-ay.], an ASMR artist who does a lot of role-playing videos. Mostly recreating a spa experience.

Somni: They are suffering, for example, from insomnia. They are currently experiencing a lot of stress or they have depression and as the number of views continues to grow, to me it shows that there is a need for quiet entertainment.

[music out]

We are providing quiet entertainment for individuals who are looking for something that helps them relax. Something like white noise [SFX: White noise] or pink noise [SFX: Pink noise] but instead there is more substance to it. The viewers enjoyed the sound combination of a human voice and the rain and on top of that the role play is about skin care. So they liked the pampering and the one-on-one attention that a character provided.

[play clip of the skin care role play]

Another ASMR artist, who goes by Jellybean Green, says her earliest memories of experiencing ASMR were in grade school. So once she became an established artist, she went back to something she remembered as very satisfying—peeling glue from her hands.

[Play ASMR clip - “Alright, so the glue has mostly dried on my hand. I’m not sure if I made it thick enough to get a good peel, but we’ll see.]

Jellybean Green: YouTube video comment sections aren't always the most eloquent places, but in the ASMR community, I've really noticed, in my videos, there are a lot of people for whom ASMR has been life changer. Relief from insomnia, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even if that relief is brief and temporary, anyone who's suffered from those things knows that a little bit of relief can go a long way.

[music in]

ASMR videos have helped me. There are some really difficult times. I have a long history of mental illness myself, anxiety, depression, OCD, and it's something I've been in and out of treatment for since I was very young. My favorite ASMR videos, and my favorite ASMR content creators mean so much to me. When people take the time to let me know that my videos have helped them, it makes me feel like I've been able to pay that forward. Pay, what I received, forward in some small way, and it's amazing. It's really, really gratifying.

We live in a noisy, stressful and distracting world...and ASMR offers us the chance to slow down and be in the moment. To be present with our bodies and mind. There’s something really cool about hearing a simple, pure, and gentle sound… and having that jump from our sense of hearing to our sense of touch. It really speaks to the power of sound. It also reminds us that, as much as we know about sound and the human body, there’s still a lot to find out. Maybe one day researchers will tell us all about it - but - for now, go find a quiet place, a few youtube videos, and try it out for yourself.

[music out]

[music in]

Twenty Thousand Hertz is produced out of the studios of Defacto Sound, a sound team that supports ad agencies, filmmakers, and video game developers. Check out recent work at defactosound dot com.

This episode was written and produced by Carolyn McCulley. And me, Dallas Taylor. With help from Sam Schneble, Nick Spradlin and Colin DeVarney. It was edited, sound designed and mixed by Jai Berger. Thanks to our guests – researchers Giulia Poerio and Craig Richard, and ASMR artists Somni Rosae and Jellybean Green.

You can listen to the ASMR artistry of Somni Rosae, Jellybean Green, Whispering Life, Gentle Whispering, ASMR Basic, The ASMR Nerd, and The Tingle Twins on YouTube. Craig Richard maintains the website ASMRuniversity.com. You can find links to the Youtube videos in this show on our website - twenty kay dot org.

The music in this episode is courtesy of our friends at Musicbed. and they’ve completely rebuilt their platform with brand-new features and advanced filters to make finding the perfect song easier and faster. Learn more at musicbed.com/new.

Finally, tell your friends about this episode. I’ll be eternally grateful.

Thanks for listening.

[music out]

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