Have you ever learned about something – whether it’s a new product or a term – and then noticed it everywhere, all the time? If so, you’ve probably come across the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also known as the frequency illusion.
Though these words are normally called after the individual who coined them, this one was named after the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany. Terry Mullen wrote a letter to a Minnesota newspaper in 1994, claiming that he had mentioned the group to a buddy one day. Despite not hearing anything about them in years, the acquaintance discovered an item on the gang in the following day’s papers and began seeing information about them all the time.
You may have experienced comparable experiences, such as the 11:11 illusion, in which people observe that when they glance at a clock, the time is 11 minutes past 11 more frequently than they would anticipate. We all know there aren’t more than two 11:11s in a day, so why would you think you see that moment more than others?
You probably aren’t, and it’s most likely just a cognitive bias at work. If someone tells you that you’re more likely to observe 11:11, you’re more likely to notice it when you look at the clock and see it’s 11:11. You may glance at the clock several times throughout the day, but ignore all of them while focusing on the instances when you did see 11:11. As a result, you may believe you are seeing it more frequently.
Academics are not immune to the bias; linguist Thomas Grano coined the phrase “frequency bias” in a blog post in 2005.
“Here at Stanford, we have a group working on innovative uses of all, especially the quotative use, as in the song title ‘I’m like ‘yeah’ and she’s all ‘no,'” Grano explained in the blog post, adding that the group believed this usage was prevalent, particularly among young Californian women.
“The undergraduates who worked on the project reported having acquaintances who used it “all the time.” However, when the undergrads engage these buddies in (lengthy) conversation, record the chats, transcribe them, and then extract instances of quotatives, the frequency of quotative all is quite low (quotative like is extremely high),” he concluded. “There are several interpretations for this vexing finding, but we’re inclined to believe that part of it is due to our Frequency Illusion.”
One amusing example is the “Mariko Aoki Phenomenon,” which requires you to poop shortly after entering a bookshop. Though there are alternative theories, one is that after Mariko Aoki wrote about her own experiences of needing to poop in bookstores (perhaps due to the frequency illusion), others began to notice when they needed to go as well, ignoring occasions where this did not occur.