Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Frequency Illusion

If I were to tell you a joke about one legged weighlifters, the odds are you would suddenly read stories about one legged weightlifters, see them in the street and meet one.

It turns out that this phenomenon - when the thing you've just noticed, experienced or been told about suddenly crops up constantly - has a name. I came across it a few days ago, it is known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, aka the frequency illusion.

Some facts:
  • The Baader-Meinhoff Gang, founded by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhoff and 2 others in 1970, was a West German far-left militant group supported by the Stasi. A terrorist organisation, it engaged in bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, bank robberies, and shoot-outs with police over the course of three years.

Ulrike Meinhoff (1934-1976), pictured as a journalist in 1964.

Arrested in 1972 and charged with numerous murders and the formation of a criminal association she was found hanged in her prison cell in 1976 before her trial had concluded.

Andreas Baader (1943-1977), pictured in 1977.

He was found dead in his cell in 1977, having died from a gunshot wound to the neck, the bullet exiting his forehead. Two other shots had been fired that missed. Despite tests revealing it was virtually impossible for the wound to have been self-inflicted, hid death was ruled a suicide.
  • The frequency illusion was named after the Baader-Meinhoff Gang by the St. Paul Minnesota Pioneer Press online. In 1994 a commenter referred to it as "the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon" after randomly hearing two references to Baader-Meinhof within 24 hours. 
  • There really isn’t some giant force sending you one legged weightlifters after hearing about them, nor is it God playing tricks on you. One legged weightlifters have been there as much before hearing the joke as after, the difference is that it’s been brought to your attention and now you are more receptive to seeing them, much as you will now suddenly read and see references to Baader-Meinhoff. This is also known as selective attention, your subconscious keeps an eye open for further instances and references, then when it occurs, the mind thinks of this as an amazing coincidence or even more. The second process is known as confirmation bias.
  • The BMP even has its own Facebook site:

Let me know if you now hear of one legged wrestlers and Baader-Meinhoff.

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