Have you ever learned about something and afterwards you start seeing it all the time? Yeah, me too… it’s strange! Why does it happen?
Recently my friend had griped about an unnamed brand of beer I hadn’t heard of before, so I made a mental note to never try this supposedly sucky beer. Shortly after our conversation, I began to see that brand all over the place.
I was at Union Station and there was a gigantic poster advertising the brand right across from the train I was about to board. A few days later, I saw the beer on sale in a 6 pack at the grocery store. The next week, I was driving home after work and I saw a distributing van that was a moving advertisement for the company! What is going on? Why do I see this name everywhere I go?
I typed the previous two questions verbatim into Google, (you don’t know what you don’t know) and to my surprise, I found the answer. What I, and many others, have experienced is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or Frequency Illusion.
It happens because our brains can deceive us.
Whatever “the thing” is that you now notice, your brain had previously ignored it due to selective attention. It’s an important function of the brain. Your brain processes an unbelievable amount of information every day, it can’t remember everything! So it’s not that “the thing” hasn’t shown up before, it has; you just weren’t aware of it at the time. Now that you are aware of it, you notice it more.
In other words, if I had never heard the beer brand’s name, I might not ever have noticed it. I might have ignored the advertisement at Union Station in the midst of running to catch the train. I might have glanced over the 6 pack of beer in search of my tried and true 6 pack of Guinness at the grocery store. The distributing van may never have caught my attention on my commute home.
I only began to notice it more recently because I now know it exists. I wonder what else I have failed to notice despite it being right in front of me…
Has this ever happened to you? Comment below!
Kershner, Kate. “What’s the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.” How Stuff Works. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/baader-meinhof-phenomenon.htm.
McRaney, David. You Are Not So Smart: Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2011. https://books.google.com/books?id=9Oc_hdvqk50C&pg=PA28&dq=frequency+illusion&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiP4Jae-pPKAhWFGT4KHRehD0gQ6AEIPTAG#v=onepage&q=frequency%20illusion&f=false
Di Pietro, Roger. The Anxiety Code: Deciphering the Purposes of Neurotic Anxiety. 2015. Web. 6 Jan. 2016. <https://books.google.com/books?id=rlykBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA378&dq=baader-meinhof+phenomenon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjB9bi_8ZPKAhUDWCYKHXQSDaMQ6AEIQDAG#v=onepage&q=baader-meinhof%20phenomenon&f=false>.