Have you ever learned a word or concept or seen an item and then suddenly see it everywhere? You’re left with a sense of confusion as to why that thing is so much more common now. That concept right there is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Like deja vu, where you’ve seen something before but don’t know from what, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon also experiences that but focuses more on how much more frequently you see that recurring thing.
Also known as the frequency illusion, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is related to cognitive bias and selective attention. You might have already seen or experienced the concept in question before but have only now just started noticing how often you see it. This could be like seeing the word “superfluous” five times in the past week but never noticing it before.
Our brains are great at finding patterns, but they only filter in information deemed important. This explains why you may notice patterns in math or design but fail to remember what you had for breakfast or what you wore yesterday because those pieces of information were not deemed important. However, this recent time you encountered the unfamiliar word “superfluous” in your vocabulary list was deemed more important because you actively thought about the word, thus making your radar better for spotting other instances of “superfluous.”
My personally fun example is how I recently started recognizing how many works esteemed actress Winona Ryder is in. She was always known to be an accomplished actress but was unbeknownst to me until recently. The first time I actively registered her as a celebrity was when I watched Heathers (Please watch that movie. It is amazing.). However, I didn’t realize that I’ve seen her before in The Crucible, where she didn’t play as big a role in the film. Only after I watched Heathers did I start realizing I saw Ryder everywhere. I saw her in movies and shows I’ve watched before or in the media or movies and shows I began to watch, like Black Swan, Edward Scissorhands, Girl Interrupted, How to Make an American Quilt, and Stranger Things. All of these titles were familiar to me before, but I never paid attention to Winona Ryder until recently, and the recency effect, where your brain remembers details that happen more recently, took place, so I began to notice her everywhere.
It is interesting how we may have seen a concept before but only just begin to see their prevalence more recently, thus showing how humans overlook many patterns or details. This just contributes to confirmation bias, where we only see what we want to see, which adds to one’s chances of finding that eerily more common word or idea.
Hopefully, you’ll see the word “superfluous,” Winona Ryder, and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon more now that you’ve learned about them. In doing so, you will be experiencing… the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.