Illusions

Blame The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon For The Things You Notice More Than Others

Imagine you just heard the word "amygdala" for the first time. Then, a day after you first heard it, you come across it again. And then again somewhere else. You wonder how you've gone your whole life without hearing the word "amygdala" and now suddenly it's everywhere! This is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also called the frequency illusion or recency illusion.

Deja Vu All Over Again

According to the Pacific Standard, Baader-Meinhof is caused by two things: "The first, selective attention, kicks in when you're struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after that, you unconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained overnight omnipresence."

The name of the phenomenon comes from an unlikely source: the comments section of Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer Press website. Over a 24-hour span in 1994, a commenter randomly heard two references to Baader-Meinhof, a 1970s West German terrorist group. The commenter's post referred to the frequency illusion as "the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon," and the name stuck.

Now, sit back and watch as your brain suddenly starts hearing "Baader-Meinhof" everywhere you go.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The Baader-Meinhof group was a late 20th century leftist militant group from West Germany. 00:37

  2. The recency effect is the cognitive bias that inflates the importance of recent stimuli or observations. 02:09

Written By
Curiosity Staff
March 10, 2016