Popular sleep app Calm has released its latest bedtime meditation, and it features the voice of PBS legend Bob Ross.
The late Ross was the creator of The Joy of Painting, a public broadcast show that gained a cult following in the 80s for its star’s folksy wisdom and calming demeanor. Even after his death in 1995, his influence has persisted, with online uploads of his segments attracting a whole new generation of fans, particularly those interested in using his narration as a trigger for ASMR.
For those unfamiliar, the acronym stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and is a pseudoscientific term used to describe the feelings of euphoria and drowsiness (often expressed in a full body “tingle”) that some experience while listening to quiet, soothing sounds, such as the tapping of fingers on keyboards, the crinkling of potato chip bags, and especially the gentle musings of Bob Ross.
“His chill vibe and baritone voice that barely rose above a whisper has lulled many a restless soul to sleep,” writes Calm on its blog. “Bob Ross, in other words, managed to be both a walking natural insomnia cure… and an unwitting pioneer of the brain-tingling sensation known as ASMR.”
While it’s clear that many people find Ross’ voice relaxing, the question remains: Why? Is it that he speaks in a soft tone? Is it his buttery timbre? Is it the things he says? Or is it truly just the way he says them?
To find out, I spoke with leading ASMR expert Dr. Craig Richard about the phenomenon and why Bob Ross in particular is such a fixture in the community.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT BOB ROSS?
“ASMR is most powerfully experienced when your brain perceives that you’re receiving personal positive attention from someone who genuinely seems to care about you,” explained Richard, founder of ASMR University and author of Brain Tingles. “This works to counteract the fight or flight response of survival and draws you into a puddle of bliss.”
“Bob Ross is a perfect example of this,” he continued. “He seems to have a caring spirit… you know that if this guy walked into a room, he’d be there to help you and you definitely wouldn’t be running to an exit. Plus, he had skills, which also stimulates ASMR.”
As Richard puts it, the appearance of having tangible skills is important because it tells the viewer or listener that Ross not only cares about them, but that he has something to teach them, which makes him come across as trustworthy. This, combined with his soothing voice and seemingly caring spirit, results in a sense of security that allows people to fully relax and fall asleep.
Interestingly, Richard added that it’s not important whether or not Ross was actually kind or nurturing as it’s the feeling of these things being true that matters: “He doesn’t really know who you are and you don’t really know who he is, but you feel like you do and that’s what counts.”
While there’s little scientific evidence out there to support the existence of ASMR (something that Richard himself points out), it does provide a useful framework for understanding why Ross continues to delight and de-stress fans all over the world.
Calm is a subscription-based service that costs $60 a year, but you can check out the “Painting with Bob Ross” story by signing up for a free one week trial. The app plans to share two more Bob Ross stories later this summer.
Featured image is a screenshot of the episode “Island in the Wilderness” from The Joy of Painting.