What is the Baader-Meinhof bias?

After noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to detect it more often, leading someone to believe it has a high frequency of occurrence. Our mind is always on the lookout for new information because it might be helpful or exciting.

Our brain is a great pattern recognition engine, and after being impacted by a new piece of information, it searches for the same stimuli elsewhere.

This eventually yields a process where the brain’s reward system drives us to successfully detect patterns as soon as a new piece of information reaches our brain.

The name for the Baader-Meinhof bias was coined in 1994 during an online discussion board when a panelist heard for the first time the name of the ultra-left-wing German terrorist group twice in 24 hours. The Baader-Meinhof bias is also known as frequency illusion.

How does the Baader-Meinhof bias influence my life?

It might cause our brain to lend extreme importance to unremarkable events. You believe that something you just learned is also new to everyone else and has suddenly popped up, when in reality you’ve just stopped ignoring it.

It can fool your criteria if you assume these new stimuli are everywhere and try to make them fit into some logical system.

On the other hand, brands use repetitive marketing as much as possible to create a false Baader-Meinhof bias and inject their messages into their customers’ brain. The more aware you are of something, the more likely you want it.

What can I do about it?

The Baader-Meinhof bias can be a learning tool if you understand how it works. It can keep you alert when you face a new stimulus, which might be helpful in some cases.

In other contexts, try to get objective data to put in perspective the frequency of a new piece of information.

Remember that you are not the only person capable of obtaining information, and contact someone else if you think a worrying new phenomenon is arising.

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“Understanding the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon”, by Healthline

  • This bias may also have legal implications, as it can influence eyewitness’ memory and accounts.

“The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon of Dieulafoy’s Lesion”, by Sindhura Kolli, Khoi Paul Dang-Ho, Amit Mori and Krishna Gurram

  • The Baader-Meinhof bias could be crucial in the dissemination of academic literature about rare diseases and new diagnostic strategies.

“Pathological gamblers are more vulnerable to the illusion of control in a standard associative learning task”, by Cristina Orgaz, Ana Estévez and Helena Matute

  • This bias might produce an illusion of authority when people believe they control an uncontrollable outcome.

“8 Best Practices for Running a Retargeting Campaign”, by Retargeter

  • A retargeted digital ad is ten times more likely to be clicked on.

“Frequency illusions and other fallacies”, by Steven A. Sloman, David Over, Lila Slovak and Jeffrey M. Stibel

  • The human brain uses frequencies instead of probabilities, which helps to increase the Baader-Meinhof bias.

“Consumer Emotion Changes on Online Advertisement Case (Experimental Research on Online Advertisement that used Online Behaviour Advertising Approach)”, by Rina Astini and Erwin Panigoro

  • Although it might discomfort potential clients, repetitive marketing using daring behavior advertising does not affect the positive values associated with a brand.