June 10, 2019
Does the sight and sound of Mexican John Colorado (Omar Shariff) sipping coffee as he argues with Mackenna (Gregory Peck) about the existence of a cache of gold in the territory of the Apaches, in the 1969 Hollywood classic Mackenna’s Gold, come alive in your mind whenever you are having coffee with your friend your favourite coffee shop? Then you have experienced a prototype of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).
The crackles, wisps, crisps and slurps of someone eating, drinking, combing hair, or turning the page in a library or whispering may produce a tingling feeling at the crown of the head that passes down to other body parts. This experience is dubbed as ASMR.
Videos of people performing these mundane tasks with sounds of the tasks reproduced realistically with highly sensitive mikes are a YouTube phenomena these days.
ASMR videos are said to promote relaxation and sleep. Worldwide, the producers of the videos being called as ASMRtists, get a whopping number subscribers in the order of a billion to several millions.
Back home of late we are seeing a lot of such videos of local ASMRtists performing bone marrow (nallielumbu) eating to sea food and biryani binging.The eaters in the videos are shown consuming frighteningly huge quantities. But one can’t resist the vicarious pleasure of eating one’s favourite food by merely seeing the video. The questions critically being raised are whether the videos produce real tingles that trigger calm and peace. Whether such an artificial trigger is harmless or has its own negative impact on the human body and mind.
Unlike similar emotional experiences such as “aesthetic chills” from music and awe-inspiring scenarios, the psychological basis of ASMR has not yet been established. Hollywood film makers gave a lot of importance to recording of sounds of even very minute things like sound of dripping water pipe, song of distant bird and sounds of burning fire wood etc to enhance audience experience of the scene. “Unlike these well-established and accepted phenomena, the experience of ASMR has gone virtually unnoticed by psychological science,” says the abstract of the study, “More than a feeling: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in effect and physiology” by Giulia Lara Poerio , Emma Blakey, Thomas J. Hostler and Theresa Veltri (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.01966wh45).
There are not many such studies to confirm the scientific basis of ASMRs as of now. Yet ASMR videos are stealing a
huge following from other popular home entertainers.
A. Ruby, a housewife says, she finds ASMR videos very soothing and pleasurable. “I had problems sleeping and saw a lot of videos on the android phone until my eyes drooped and I slept. Eating ASMRs which I find to be variants of food videos are quite different. The experience is unique. It gives me a feeling of eating what I like most” she says.
ASMR eating videos have claimed instant following from foodies and non foodies. But neurologists by and large are not aware of ASMRs phenomena at least the Mukbank eating videos. Highly sceptical about its claims, Dr R. Natarajan, a noted Neurosurgeon, founder Neuro Foundation, Salem, says the claims of ASRM’s ability trigger placid feelings is not scientific. The whole thing seems to be in the realm of pseudo art at present. More studies are needed to establish its effects, good or bad, he says.
In the study “More than a feeling: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology”, the emotional and physiological correlates of the ASMR response were tested. ASMR was associated with reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance levels. However the authors want more studies on ASMR to be done to establish its locus standi