Ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?
Well, the chances are that you’ll hear about it again soon.
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (also known as “frequency illusion”) is when you notice something, perhaps something out of the ordinary, like coming across an unusual name, hearing a song, or learning the name of an actor you have never seen before.
Suddenly, that thing you noticed for the first time just yesterday started appearing from nowhere, both here and there, like some short-term déjà vu.
What’s going on here?
The Brain’s Quest for Novelty
Most of us have experienced the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon — I know I have.
I experience it all the time.
And that’s not an exaggeration.
Since I’m not superstitious, I’ve always taken for granted that it has something to do with a psychological fallacy or bias — like confirmation bias. 1Confirmation bias is when we hear or see what we want to hear and see. We don’t want to see or listen to things that we don’t seem to register as quickly.
However, confirmation bias, a widely known and well-studied psychological fallacy, doesn’t account for the whole experience of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
Let’s say that I walk by a store, and from within that store; I hear a rather unusual song from the ’80s that I haven’t heard in ages. I used to love it, but I had forgotten about it.
I hear the song repeatedly in the following weeks — and always by chance. How weird.
Suppose we were to explain these occurrences using the fallacy of confirmation bias alone. In that case, we must conclude that I’ve always encountered this relatively rare song from the ’80s without consciously noticing it.
But how can that be — especially if the song is relatively obscure?
The Frequency Illusion
According to Stanford linguist professor Arnold Zwicky, who coined the term frequency illusion for this phenomenon in 2006, something else happens before your confirmation bias kicks in. 2Many would say that Arnold Zwicky is one of the most influential linguists in the United States, if not the world. After receiving his PhD in Linguistics from Stanford in 1955, he began teaching at … Continue reading
When something novel sparks an emotional reaction, your brain actively scans for what you notice. Unconsciously, your brain is actively seeking that song — wherever you go.
How does the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon affect us?
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon made it into the open internet and has become peculiar. It could fuel paranoia and other unhealthy states if you have a mental illness.
But there are positive examples, too.
“In 2019, third-year medical student Kush Purohit wrote a letter to the editor of Academic Radiology to talk about his own experience. Having just learned of a condition called “bovine aortic arch,” he went on to discover three more cases within the next 24 hours. Purohit suggested that taking advantage of psychological phenomena such as Baader-Meinhof could benefit students of radiology, helping them to learn basic search patterns as well as the skills to identify findings that others may overlook.”
The German Terrorist Group
Why do we call it the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and not the frequency effect?
A commenter in the St. Paul Pioneer Press online forum used the more popular term Baader-Meinhof phenomenon after hearing about the ultra-left-wing terrorist group Baader-Meinhof Gang, also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), twice in 24 hours. 3In the 1970s, a radical group called the Baader-Meinhof Gang wreaked havoc in West Germany. Led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, the group sought to bring about drastic social and political … Continue reading
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon has nothing to do with the terrorist group that wreaked havoc in Germany in the ’70s. One could make the case that it’s not ideal to reference a group of terrorists. The phenomenon could have as well have been named anything else. But it stuck.
Perceiving Patterns Amidst the Noise
So, what about that obscure song from the ’80s, then? The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, the cognitive bias that impacts our perception of frequency, might be at play.
Our brains are constantly scanning for new and recently discovered stimuli. In the process, we may encounter hundreds of potential instances of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon over a week. However, only a handful of these instances will resurface within that time frame. This selective perception can be attributed to our brain’s inherent desire for novelty and ability to filter out less pertinent information subconsciously.
When we notice a pattern, such as hearing the same obscure song repeatedly, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon kicks in. Our brains focus on this specific stimulus, making it seem as though we are encountering it more frequently than before. In reality, the song may have been playing in the background of our lives all along, but we failed to notice it until our attention was drawn to it.
As we navigate our lives, our brains subconsciously filter out information that does not immediately pertain to our interests or experiences. This cognitive filtering plays a critical role in the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, allowing us to hone in on specific stimuli while disregarding others. Consequently, we may perceive that we encounter certain instances of the phenomenon more frequently than others, even though they may all be equally prevalent in our lives.
Cognitive Filtering and Its Impact on Perception
We live in an interconnected society. We shouldn’t underestimate the chaotic network effects.
Maybe many people in your area heard that same song on the radio that day. Maybe lots of them reacted in the same way I did.
There’s a possibility that your initial feeling indeed is right; a tiny spark could lead to a butterfly effect and increase the likelihood of you encountering the same thing soon again due to this spreading chain of events. 4We all get caught by cookies while searching for various web pages. And we’ve crossed paths on this particular web page, right? Without noticing it, algorithms might amplify the Baader-Meinhof … Continue reading
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, a fascinating cognitive bias, influences our perception of frequency and prevalence, often leaving us with the impression that we encounter newly discovered stimuli more often than we are.
By understanding the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon, we can better appreciate the complex workings of our brains and the subtle ways in which cognitive biases shape our perception of reality.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also known as the “frequency illusion” or “recency bias,” occurs when something you have recently noticed or experienced crops suddenly up repeatedly in your daily life.
This cognitive bias could affect your decision-making and perception:
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a common cognitive bias that affects our perception of frequency and prevalence. By recognizing its presence in various aspects of life, individuals and organizations can make more informed decisions, maintain a balanced perspective, and avoid overemphasizing the importance of newly acquired information.
Learn more: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
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PR Resource: The Anatomy of Attention
The Anatomy of Attention
Attention is an essential component of public relations:
We all seem to crave attention in some form or another:
“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author
But what constitutes ‘attention’?
“Attention is a complex, real neural architecture (‘RNA’) model that integrates various cognitive models and brain centers to perform tasks like visual search.”
Source: Trends in cognitive sciences 5Shipp, S. (2004). The brain circuitry of attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.03.004
Each of the below terms refers to a specific aspect or type of attention (“mental bandwidth”), a complex cognitive process. 6Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The structure of the relationship between attention and intelligence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. … Continue reading
Let’s explore different types of attention:
Each type of attention plays a crucial role in how we interact with and process information from our environment, and understanding these different aspects is key in fields like psychology, neuroscience, and education.
“There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
— Oscar Wilde
Learn more: The Anatomy of Attention
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|Confirmation bias is when we hear or see what we want to hear and see. We don’t want to see or listen to things that we don’t seem to register as quickly.|
|Many would say that Arnold Zwicky is one of the most influential linguists in the United States, if not the world. After receiving his PhD in Linguistics from Stanford in 1955, he began teaching at UC Berkeley, where he remained for many years. He’s well known for his work in syntactic and semantics. His research interests include English syntax, pragmatics, semantics, phonology, morphology, and syntax-phonology interface.|
|In the 1970s, a radical group called the Baader-Meinhof Gang wreaked havoc in West Germany. Led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, the group sought to bring about drastic social and political changes, and they targeted prominent figures in society and government officials. The gang staged kidnappings, assassinations, bombings and bank robberies, even planting bombs so powerful they would flatten entire city blocks.|
|We all get caught by cookies while searching for various web pages. And we’ve crossed paths on this particular web page, right? Without noticing it, algorithms might amplify the Baader-Meinhof effect all the time. But if you want to make sure, you can always do what I did and follow the Baader-Meinhof Facebook page.|
|Shipp, S. (2004). The brain circuitry of attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 223 – 230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.03.004|
|Schweizer, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Goldhammer, F. (2005). The structure of the relationship between attention and intelligence. Intelligence, 33(6), 589 – 611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2005.07.001|