The endless soap-chopping, foam-cutting, and slime-squishing videos on Instagram all prove that people are still obsessed with autonomous sensory meridian response — more commonly known as ASMR — which is a kind of sensory synesthesia that gives some people a tingly euphoric feeling. There isn’t yet a scientific consensus about exactly why ASMR happens, but ASMR videos utilize a combination of close personal attention (voices speaking directly to you) and quiet, undisturbing sounds (like paper rustling) to create a flow-like state in the brain. People who love it have called the experience a “brain orgasm.” Its popularity has skyrocketed in the past five years, and businesses are picking up on the trend, as well: JetBlue's new ASMR track for example, aims to make traveling a little more chill this holiday season.
JetBlue is calling this bit of marketing genius AirSMR. It uses the ambient noises of the airport to create a lush aural landscape. The airline worked with an ASMR expert, Craig Richard, a pioneering biopharmacist and researcher at Shenandoah University, to design the clip. "Similar to meditation or receiving a massage, experiencing ASMR content can be helpful for relaxing, de-stressing, and falling asleep more easily,” Richard said in a press release, stressing the importance of “offering customers non-traditional solutions to unwind.”
Some background: I love traveling and I love airports. Stick with me — I have a good reason. Airports are full of different kinds of people flying off to various places; waiting in airports has often nudged me to gain a bigger perspective on life. And while I know that AirSMR might be a subliminal kind of ad in the form of therapy that feeds on both flight anxiety and our newfound obsession with anxiety itself, my skeptical behind is sold. The soundscape is like going to the airport when everything’s on time, everyone is being nice, and you’re going on vacation someplace where the weather is perfect. It’s the audio equivalent of hope.
Do I sound too euphoric about this ad? Blame it on the ASMR.
You can also listen to it in-flight. While some critics think using ASMR to help passengers cope with travel anxiety is bizarre, there’s real science behind it. Recent research suggests that the whispery sounds of ASMR induce relaxed feelings and a reduced heart rate. It may be, as Richards suggested, a “non-traditional solution” to relieve stress, but it emerged out of our natural response to certain kinds of sensory stimulation. ASMR videos took what seemed like an unusual physiological experience, standardized it, and made it available free on the internet. And now, thanks to JetBlue (who is not sponsoring my mindful travels, but should be), we can take ASMR with us wherever we go. Terminal 5, here I come. Quietly.