Do you notice 11:11 AM or 3:16 PM on the clock every day?
Or do you tally every car’s number plate to find it adds up to a 7?
Is there a particular advertisement you come across all the time on the radio?
Do you feel everyone is going to the same destination for a holiday?
Is everyone wearing white sneakers?
Coincidence? Universe’s conspiracy? Systematic advertising?
Well, none of the above. This strange repetitive occurrence is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency bias. This phenomenon occurs when something you might have only recently learned or noticed now appears to be ‘everywhere’.
Psychologically speaking, it is nothing but your brain choosing to pay more attention to something it was only briefly interested in once.
Why does this happen and why is it important to be aware of it now.
Our brain has prejudice towards patterns. This characteristic is highly useful for learning, but it also causes the brain to lend excessive importance to unremarkable events. Since the brain’s reward center gets stimulated for successfully detecting a pattern, the perceptible value of an unremarkable event gets inflated. We fail to notice the hundreds or thousands of pieces of information that aren’t repeated, only because they do not conform to an interesting pattern. The tendency to ignore the “uninteresting” data is an example of selective attention.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon has been highly triggered in all of us due to the pandemic. I recently read about the Black-fungus aka mucormycosis which has been a rising concern in COVID recoverees. I subconsciously register concern for my recovering in-laws and my recurring stye. And just like that, I read the news about it everywhere — creating panic and anxiety one headline at a time.
Being aware of this kind of frequency bias, today might help one adjust to what you are pay attention to — understanding what is only observed by the brain more often versus what is really frequent. Treat your attention span like a treasure. Learn, evaluate, and only then associate.
None of us have the bandwidth right now.