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Frequency Illusion

We know that the name of this phenomenon may sound unfamiliar at first but keep reading, and what it stands for will start being way more recognizable.

We constantly accumulate new knowledge.

We are surrounded by different ways to acquire information from the moment we are born, but the more we learn, the more we realize how expansive knowledge can be.

That’s all well and good, but have you ever noticed that only after you see or learn something for the first time you can suddenly spot it everywhere?

This occurrence is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, and although it may have a strange name, it's actually a common thing for most people.

Here we will explain in more detail the Baader-Meinhof illusion and why it happens.

What Is It?

So what is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon exactly?

To explain it in the simplest way possible, this is the correlation between learning something new and beginning to notice it everywhere in your daily life.

If we want a shorter definition, it would be "frequency bias" - the proof that our pattern-seeking brains are constantly looking for affirmations.

We can experience this phenomenon with anything - discovering a new flower, learning a new word, or even noticing a specific type of building (like how many churches or houses there are in a particular city).

The process has nothing to do with how or why we learn what we do, who gives us the information, how new it is, or even what the piece of knowledge is by itself.

Instead, this illusion focuses on the direct correlation between us noticing something and its preexisting state in the world.

If what you've started to notice hasn't actually increased in number or frequency of use, but you believe it has because you are seeing it more, you are likely experiencing this effect.

Generally, our perception of new things, their state, usage, frequency, etc., often correlates with how much we search for them.

And this often happens subconsciously without us ever realizing the underlying connection.

When our awareness increases, we start believing there's more of the object or situation in question without that being the case in reality.

Now that we have the basic premise explained let's dive into some history.

The History Behind It

How this phenomenon got its name is a fascinating story.

The Baader-Meinhof group was a german terrorist organization active in the 70s.

The researcher who coined this term named it after once mentioning the organization to his friend, only to find their name in a newspaper a day later.

However, this title didn’t last long, as the phenomenon picked up a different name shortly after its initial recognition.

It happened because most people didn't know the background story, and thus the name was harder to remember.

So what is its other name?

People often use the term "the red car syndrome" to describe the concept.

The idea behind this name is a good reminder of the effect it stands for.

It's a hypothetical situation where you're in the market for a car, and you are still unsure what color you should get.

You decide to buy a red one to stand out, but now you suddenly start to notice hundreds of red cars every time you are in the city.

Their number hasn't actually changed.

You are just now starting to look for them and spot each one subconsciously, thus falsely believing there are many more than there actually are.

The Illusion And Our Lives

Our brains are so used to pattern recognition that we sometimes have to think of ways to fool ourselves or purposefully leave out information so we are not biased.

We have come up with some interesting techniques to battle selective bias.

One of them is the "double-blind" approach scientists use when conducting studies.

It is actually a pretty common practice that has undoubtedly improved multiple research studies in applied sciences.

Pretty much all placebo medication practices work, taking in mind our tendency for pattern-seeking.

However, the opposite side of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon has had its uses in medical history too.

We can’t constantly remember everything - sometimes, things we technically know but don't use often can get pushed behind other information.

As a result, learning about a new pattern often makes it stand out more than others.

An excellent example of this is a medical student who, in 2019, "found" three more cases of a specific condition right after he learned about it in class.

As a matter of fact, the more we look for this phenomenon, the more we find it, which has only solidified its existence and elusiveness.

Wrapping Up

All in all, frequency bias is a fascinating phenomenon.

Many people experience it, yet it remains elusive and hard to prove.

This is why thinking about when you suddenly start noticing more of something without an objective reason - it’s a good idea to ask yourself when you first found out about it.

Now that you know about this phenomenon, check out how many red cars there are in your city!

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