Interview with Jennifer Allen, the woman who coined the term, ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR)

ASMR Autonomous Sensory Meridian ResponseJennifer Allen currently lives just outside Plattsburgh in upper state NY, USA. She has attended the University of Southern Maine and is currently a Red Team Manager for a cybersecurity company.

Jennifer is also the person who coined the term, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

But that is not all. She has been a significant contributor to the ASMR community from the start.

Here is an incomplete list of her incredible involvements and achievements:

  • 2009: participated in the first major online discussion of the sensation at steadyhealth.com
  • 2010: coined the term autonomous sensory meridian response
  • 2010: founded the Facebook ASMR Group
  • 2010: created the website http://www.asmr-research.org
  • 2011: founded the Facebook ASMR Page
  • 2011: lobbied Wikipedia to keep the first ASMR entry

In my interview with Jennifer she shares her journey of ASMR understanding and community-building, her memory of the exact moment she coined ‘ASMR’, the exciting relaunch of asmr-research.org, her concern with the current Wikipedia entry about ASMR, and her vision for the future of ASMR.

Below are my questions in bold, her replies in italics, and a link to her LinkedIn profile.

When did you first become aware of the concept of ASMR?

Jennifer, “I first remember experiencing ASMR and noting that it was a strange occurrence in my early 20s. I searched the Internet a number of times for any indication of what the experience was or who else might share it, but found nothing for over a decade.

I would periodically check, but never came up with results until I stumbled on the steadyhealth.com forum thread titled, “Weird sensation feels good”. Once I read the accounts of others, I realized what I was experiencing was similar and decided to pursue answers.”

What do you remember about your involvement in the steadyhealth forum thread?

Jennifer, “I posted around 2009 as a guest on the “part 2” thread.

I posted initially to share my own experiences, and then, seeing interest in finding answers, suggested we begin a group to organize.

Nobody seemed to know where to start, so I jumped in, opened a Facebook group, and created a term that would be easy for people to talk about without fear of ridicule.”

Do you remember the exact day and/or moment in February of 2010 that you coined the term ASMR?

Jennifer, “I do. Despite the season, I was extremely warm (my home office faces the sun and the temperature had risen to an uncomfortable degree). I wanted to start the Facebook group and then get out of my office as soon as possible—I’d started sweating.

I sat in my chair staring at my desk and the sticky note I’d put in front of myself to jot down whatever idea that came to me. I remember thinking I really needed to take time and come up with a good term. I had the distinct feeling that it was important, even though my self-doubt kept telling me I was wasting my time and being silly.

I came up with a lot of ideas, trying to think of one that would capture the key components of the sensation without the possibility of being too embarrassing or too removed from the actual experience. I ended up listing the key characteristics and then looked for terms that would adequately describe each one.

In retrospect, a shorter term would have been easier for some people to digest, and I’ve heard a lot of criticism that the name is pseudoscientific. I think there was no winning on that subject – I either chose a cutesy, simplistic name, or picked words objectively and literately (yes, it turns out you can use a dictionary without a PhD).

Either way I would have annoyed someone; my biggest concern was that it would make people comfortable using it, because I knew that would determine whether or not we would begin to organize and gain the numbers needed to reach everyone, get consensus, and bring the community out in the open.

I used to apologize for the term, but now I just shrug, because, hey, it worked. I think I still have that post-it in my office.”

What inspired you to coin the term ASMR and how did you decide those exact words?

Jennifer, “After reading the comments of others, I realized people would never be able to open up about what they were experiencing unless it could be discussed in a way that was objective, not tied to emotional or deeply personal terminology, and not suggesting aspects that were not in line with their personal experience.

People perceive the meaning of words differently, and a phrase that uses words tied to sexual or taboo activity, or words that have no immediate apparent connection to the topic tend to cause people to form opinions about the validity or intent of the subject at hand.

I knew with something as difficult to describe and as sensitive for people to open up about as ASMR that we would need something that objectively and definitively named the sensation.

Using a “clinical” word was the best option to improve how the burgeoning community would feel about using and telling others about the word.

Critics like to call the term pseudoscientific, but I contend that in this climate of abject skepticism and immediate gratification for knowledge anything less formal or explicit would have failed to meet the needs in this very unique social circumstance. The name was what it had to be to help the community survive, and that was my mission.”

How do you feel about the current widespread use of the term ASMR?

Jennifer, “I’m glad I could contribute something that has helped the community spread awareness and allowed those experiencing this sensation to comfortably discuss it with their friends and family. I think self-acceptance from consensus has also enabled some people to allow themselves to explore the experience deeper.”

What inspired you to create the Facebook ASMR Group in 2010?

Jennifer, “After reading the steadyhealth.com forum thread, I realized that no one was organizing the community at that point in a way that would promote sharing and research.

I knew that if I wanted answers I would have to start by getting people to open up and talk about what was happening to them, and how the experiences were alike. I knew we needed large-scale consensus before the rest of the world would pay attention. People needed a place to interact that was safe and easy.”

What inspired you to create the website asmr-research.org in 2010?

Jennifer, “After a year of building the community, I knew people wanted more from the group. Many people were happy to find others they could share their experiences with, but also wanted answers on what was happening to them and how far the similarities of their experience extended to others around the world.

I started the research website and sent invitations to the first members of the research team to do what nobody else was yet interested in doing.”

What were the goals of asmr-research.org?

Jennifer, “We wanted to promote understanding, study the experience, network the community, and find answers in any way we could. We also wanted to provide compelling information to spur more interest from the scientific communities related to the phenomenon. Finding and distributing compelling information became a focus for the group to achieve all the other goals.

The website helped provide a landing place for the early information, helped reach an audience that might not be on Facebook (or might be uncomfortable sharing their membership with their social network – some people left the early group when they realized others in their friends list could see they had joined), and gave us a platform to collect data.”

Can you share some information on the other research team members? (Andrew MacMuiris, Domagoj Bodlaj, Karissa Burgess, Ryan Perez, Susan Wainwright-Preece, Torsten Wiedemann)

Jennifer, “I am lucky to have the company of the team, which has changed over time but has always been populated by members of the community. I started the team a year after the Facebook page, when it became obvious that people were looking for more answers than just socializing could provide.

I reached out to some of the most active, enthusiastic, and positive members on the Facebook group and asked them to take specific roles in a grass roots research and development team. Each team member participated in different ways and to different degrees as their schedules and interests dictated.

We promoted the group, spread information about the term ASMR, and conducted surveys and interviews to gather more information. Every activity helped promote awareness, and I think it is because of the team that the community has grown so quickly.

Andrew MacMuiris was one of the original team members I invited to join. Andrew started The Unnamed Feeling blog in 2010 to seek others who were experiencing the same thing.

Andrew did the most direct promotion, blogging on The Unnamed Feeling, moderating some of the extended forums and the group, and conducting outreach to a variety of social sites. Andrew has cross-posted many of the community milestones onto his blog, and his writings were instrumental in spreading awareness of the community in the first few years.

He resides in South Africa, and was initially the most skeptical about our efforts, but has ended up being one of the biggest advocates for the community. If anyone asked me who on the team to thank for the community exploding as it has, I would point them in his direction. He continues to participate in the community and his blog.

Domagoj Bodlaj was the second person to join the Facebook group (thanks for taking a chance, Domagoj – look what happened! ). He’s been a consistent member of the community from the very beginning, and has helped the team with outreach and insight. He resides in Croatia and was studying law when he joined the team.

Ryan Perez was also a member of the original team, and has been a promoter and active community member since the beginning of the group. He resides in the US, and is an active singer & songwriter, as well as a student of English literature.

Ryan initially started the Society of Sensationalists group in 2008. He founded the group to search, in the same way that everyone was searching then, for others having the same experience. The group eventually died out, and then he joined the ASMR research team later, as well as, participated in the Facebook group and various activities since that time.

Karissa Burgess (now Karissa Burnett) came to the team later, and took over the role of coordinating research efforts. She brings a strong academic background in Psychology and Neuroscience to the team, which was greatly needed to help refine our focus. She has been very energetic and ready to help with the latest research efforts, as you know.

Susan Wainwright-Preece, who resides in England, joined the team during a period when I was extremely busy in my personal and work life, so she hasn’t had as many opportunities to join in the efforts as the rest of the team, but she has continued to be a positive and active proponent of the community.

Torsten Wiedemann is an ethnobotanist and serotonin researcher residing in Australia. He joined the team to provide insight into the potential links to serotonin and to help explore the best research angles for our early surveys and interviews.

Notably, all of the team members past and present experience ASMR, which has helped in providing perspective to our activities and focus.

What is the current status of the asmr-research.org website?

Jennifer, “The asmr-research.org site is currently offline. I would like to reactivate the page, but am seeking a different platform and a reconstruction of the site to house useful information and tools for the community. I’m currently evaluating a cloud server, and will launch a splash page soon (late March).

With mainstream research finally moving, the focus of the new site will lean toward community resources and tools for those who experience ASMR. The site will also link to active sites like ASMR University for research updates and news.

With my busy schedule, I may ask for assistance from the community or make the site static and rely on links to actively maintained sites for regular content.”

What inspired you to create the ASMR Facebook page in 2011?

Jennifer, “I created the Facebook page to expand discussion from the Facebook group and let the general public view information about ASMR without taking the plunge and joining the private group. It was around that time that Facebook expanded the functionality of groups and pages, so I wanted to take advantage of the distinction.”

What was your involvement with the first Wikipedia page about ASMR which was created in 2011?

Jennifer, “The Wikipedia article was started by a community member and quickly expanded on by the community. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet the standards of the Wikipedia editors and was quickly voted against for removal.

As for my involvement, I passionately attempted to convince the equally passionate Wikipedia editors to keep the original page intact. I must admit ignorance in the finer requirements of Wikipedia entries, and thus may have fought inappropriately, but am happy to say the page has been reinstated since that time by the community. I decided to avoid major edits after the reinstatement, as I am considered a biased source of information.

On a side note, if there’s space and time for me to rant a bit, I would love to take a moment to explain a bit of misinformation on the current Wikipedia article.

I never mistook the word meridian for orgasm. I wanted to use a word that would *replace* the word orgasm, and referenced the dictionary definition, for which entries included the noun form, “a point or period of highest development, greatest prosperity, or the like.”, and the adjective form, “of or indicating a period of greatest prosperity, splendor, success, etc.”, as indicated by Dictionary.com.

So thank you very much, but no, I did not at any point confuse ‘meridian’ for ‘orgasm’. Quite the opposite, I knew very well ‘meridian’ was not ‘orgasm’, and that was quite the point.  Is it too obvious that bugged me a bit?”

How is ASMR a part of your life today?

Jennifer, “I experience ASMR by direct control, and so have never sought out videos to trigger myself.

But I do use ASMR every day. I developed control over it through focused meditative sessions and can now trigger it at will. I use it during the day to reduce stress, improve my mood, and at night to relax when I am going to sleep.

Sometimes I enjoy it when I’m just a bit bored, too. I am better equipped to deal with difficult, emotional, or stressful moments because of it, and that means I’m able to do more with each day, which is deeply satisfying to me.”

Have you ever had an ASMR ‘celebrity moment’ when someone came up to you and asked, “Are you THAT Jennifer Allen?”

Jennifer, “No, not really. I have some friends who know about it and have talked to me about the community, but I don’t stand out in any way, and I don’t think I’m a big enough contributor in the community for someone to seek me out. I do have a surprising amount of stranger friends on Facebook, but I think that’s the extent to which anyone recognizes me, which is totally OK by me.”

Do your current friends and associates know of your historical involvement with ASMR?

Jennifer, “I do remember telling a few coworkers about the effort right after I started the community. That was a “coming out” of sorts, since I’d never really discussed the experience with anyone before that.

They’re really nice people, and were kind enough to give me a, “wow, that’s interesting”. One of my rather smart coworkers even tried to theorize about the causes with me, though I could sense a bit of skepticism on his part.

I didn’t talk much about the efforts I was putting into the community for a little while, until the community started to take off. My friends were always accepting, and some even admitted to experiencing ASMR, which was a big revelation to me – I would have never known had I not taken a chance to discuss it with them.

Most of my friends now know about my involvement and one or two of my current coworkers may be aware, but I don’t talk about it too much unless it makes sense to bring it up.”

What do you think about (or how do you feel) as you reflect back on this recent past when you were so involved with ASMR?

Jennifer, “I’m glad I put the effort I did into building this community. It was time-consuming and exhausting, but worth the positive effect I’ve read about from many people. People have reported their joy in finding others sharing the same experience, reported pain relief, sleep after suffering insomnia, stress reduction, and even help with PTSD. How could I not be happy that I had some part in that?  

I do wish I could spend more time on it now, but I think everything is going very well with the recent surge in research interest and the amazing creative works of the ASMRtists and other community members.

Every person who gets involved by creating content or spreading the word or just being a part of an honest, open discussion generates this ripple effect that touches someone else’s life and that ripple then spreads to others, making the community stronger and helping people who don’t and might never know each other but who are connected through these simple, everyday interactions. I think if anything, I am most happy about that outcome.

In the last five years I’ve watched so many people stop being afraid to be honest and just open up and share their joy of life with each other. Not to sound corny, but that kind of love can change everything.”

How have your understandings and perspectives about ASMR changed since 2007?

Jennifer, “My suspicions that I wasn’t alone have been confirmed. My suspicions that others felt isolated in the same way have also been confirmed. I had no idea so many people were triggered by certain inputs, and I had no idea that so many people were experiencing what I was experiencing.

I know now that there are more applications to ASMR than I had originally imagined, and that the sharing and discovery of those applications will be both a personal experience and in the hands of the community.”

Where do you think the understanding and/or application of ASMR will be in 10 years?

Jennifer, “I think the future greatly depends on the participation of the community. No one person can determine how ASMR will be applied globally because it is a deeply personal and individual experience. This experience does impact how we live and interact in a meaningful way, so it has a great amount of potential to teach us about openness, empathy, and happiness.

I hope we will celebrate our ability to enjoy life, share that joy with others, and find new ways to use ASMR in the best possible application—to make life for ourselves and others better and more meaningful in even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant moments. If every moment can be more, then we are more. At least, that’s how I see it.

In more specific terms, I expect to see more diversity in trigger content. I expect to see more people interested in learning how to control ASMR without external triggers.

I do think we’ll see more information on the individual physiological components of ASMR (and I think we’ll find that multiple actions – eg. transmitters, kinetic responses, and psychological responses – are involved in the overall experience), but I suspect it will be a long time before we understand the implications.”

What are your other major interests or deep passions besides ASMR?

Jennifer, “I’m a red teamer in the cybersecurity industry, an Extra license HAM, a practicing medical herbalist, an amateur fiction writer, a recent enthusiast in the biohacking movement, and a novice practitioner of Krav Maga and Aikido.

At a purposeful level, I am constantly seeking ways to help change the course we’re on as a species, since I think we may be a bit off track, and I usually can find ways to do this best at a tiny, local level with a variety of different projects and activities.”

What do you think will be the next big step for the ASMR community?

Jennifer, “I hope the community will take it as a personal challenge to explore the full depth of how ASMR can be used to improve their lives and to strengthen our interactions with one another in the near future. I think ASMR is just one tool in many that our community has to change the future of the world, and I hope they all see how much power they have to make a difference.

I know the ASMR community at large is very creative, very sensitive (often to the point of empathy, something a growing population desperately needs to survive), and fully equipped to derive new meaning from where we are today; I look forward to witnessing it!”

Click HERE to view Jennifer Allen’s LinkedIn profile

Click HERE to view her updated ASMR research website (may not be active yet)

Click HERE to read more about the History of ASMR

Click HERE to listen to podcast episodes about the History of ASMR

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This post brought to you by ASMR University.  A site with the mission of increasing the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Jennifer Allen, the woman who coined the term, ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ (ASMR)

  1. Pingback: History of ASMR: Interview (Part 2) with Jennifer Allen, the woman who coined the term “ASMR” (podcast episode #9) | ASMR University

  2. Pingback: History of ASMR: Interview with Jennifer Allen, the woman who coined the term “ASMR” – Part 1 (podcast episode #8) | ASMR University

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