DAA Daily

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

By Gulsen Kutluay
Yummy Editor
The Pawprint

You learn a new word in English class, and suddenly notice it in the magazine you are reading. Your buddy tells you about a cool new restaurant, and you see a bus ad for it. You read about a upcoming movie, and start seeing posters for it everywhere. Has it happened to you where when you learn about a new idea/topic or thing, you suddenly start seeing or hearing it everywhere? You are experiencing a phenomenon called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (pronounced badder mainhoff). This intense feeling of coincidence is known as a frequency illusion.

It was first ‘termed’ by Stanford Linguistics Professor Arnold Zwicky in 2006. It is caused by two physiological processes [ Standard, Pacific. “There’s a Name for That” ] The first is Selective Attention where you unconsciously keep an eye out for something you just learned. The second, called Confirmation Bias, is when your brain interprets new evidence as confirmation of your existing beliefs. A prime example of Selective Attention is if someone tells you NOT to think about elephants, and that’s all you can think about. Also, selective attention happens when a certain trigger in the brain reacts to its surrounding, aiming you notice something particularly more, or making you not notice something that you haven’t learned. Confirmation Bias is the actual feeling of this phenomenon, and it happens when you think, “Huh, that’s weird, I just learned this.” It’s the biased outlook of your brain accepting that it’s retained something new, and accepting that you are indeed seeing it more often.

However, the original idea was invented in 1994 by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who came up with it after hearing about a German Terrorist group, called Baader-Meinhof, twice in a day, and noticed it kept happening.

“The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is kind of like Deja Vu in the sense that it’s something weird that many people have unexpectedly and can’t readily explain.” says philosopher and author Daniel Miessler.

A lot of people have experienced it, so much so that they expect it upon retaining new information. Another theory is that this phenomenon is closely linked to synchronicity, which is intense coincidence, such as getting a phonecall from someone you were just thinking about. [Bellows, Alan / Damn Interesting]

Whatever it really is, whether a real thing, or just something we’ve created to explain the coincidences of the universe, Baader-Meinhof is certainly an interesting and, quite frankly, creepy reality. Now go out there and keep you eyes peeled for it!

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