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The frequency effect cognitive bias will probably seem familiar.

Written by John Kuder

Table Of Contents

The Frequency illusion, also known as the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon or frequency bias, is a cognitive bias that describes our tendency to notice something more often after we notice it for the first time. We believe that it is happening more often than before.

The illusion is a result of increased awareness of a phrase, idea, or object – for example, hearing a song more often or seeing red cars everywhere.

The Baader-Meinhof name was attached in 1995 but in 2005, when Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky wrote about this effect on his blog, he gave it the name “frequency illusion”.

Zwicky considered this illusion a result of two psychological processes, selective attention and confirmation bias.

Selective attention refers to the process of selecting and focusing on relevant stimuli while ignoring distractions. This means that people have the unconscious cognitive ability to filter for relevant information.

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that always interacts with frequency illusion. This bias refers to the tendency of seeking evidence that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while sometimes overlooking evidence to the contrary.

Recency illusion is another selective attention effect that tends to accompany frequency illusion. This illusion occurs when an individual notices or recalls something from their recent past, causing them to be convinced that it is very new when it isn’t.

The frequency illusion is used by marketing firms to make this cognitive bias work in their favor. They will use a combination of repetition on the same channel and also on many channels simultaneously, so the product suddenly seems to be everywhere and, we assume, very popular.

Our inability to fully understand the nature of randomness makes it worse. Our brains are hard wired to search for patterns, and we are predisposed to find them. Every time we recognize a pattern, we get a little dopamine hit. This means we tend to find patterns even when they’re not there, like when we think we’re having a winning streak at a roulette table or seeing images in clouds or on toast.

This pattern-spotting talent is very useful for learning, but it can also cause us to assign too much importance to minor events.

The effect is more pronounced when we have an emotional response to the thing we are noticing. This is where emotional intelligence comes in. The first level is self-awareness, or noticing what we are feeling.

A mindfulness practice can help develop our focus in the present and what we are noticing and feeling.


Hi. So hopefully you’re gonna see us again and again and again because of what we talked about today. Over and over and over… We’re talking about the cognitive bias called the frequency illusion. Ah, and it, it also has a couple other names. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Oh yeah, I remember that one.

Or Frequency. Bias, which it is a bias and it’s a cognitive bias and it, and it describes it, our tendency to. Notice something and and then we more often after we notice it the first time a, a really simple example is, you know, we’re thinking about buying a, a particular car. Right? Okay. And, and we don’t, we think hardly anybody has these cars.

We’ll be different. You know, we’re gonna get that car and, and we start looking at that car. Yeah. And all of a sudden, Everywhere you look, there they are. Right? They’re everywhere. Mm-hmm. It’s like, whoa. Well, I guess we’re not gonna be so original after all. No, of course. So what is the deal with this? I dunno, what is the big deal?

It’s our, it’s increased, increased attention to, it could be a phrase, it could be an object or an idea like hearing a song more often. That’s another little piece of this. That’s another one. Yeah. Yeah. You, you, you know, you hear a new song and then you think, Oh wow. That’s so cool. And then you hear it everywhere and then you get tired of it.

Exactly. But I, I’ve, I’ve so experienced this in terms of seeing a. A movie or a a, you know, a TV show, and I’ll, you know, a an actor or actress will put on a, you know, have a really good performance and I’ll think, wow, I’ve never saw that actor or actress before. They’re so good. See him anything. And, and then turns out, well, you know, I’ve, I’ve seen ’em 10 times before.

At least in other shows, and they were just, they had minor characters and, and minor parts, and they didn’t, they just didn’t get my attention. Okay. Okay. So what else in this one? Okay, so the Baader-Meinhof the name came, I, I don’t wanna go the, the history of the name, where it came from. Cause it’s, it’s kind of unpleasant.

But it, it was actually, Happened in 1995. That’s when the name it, it was on a, internet chat board. Somebody mentioned something that they’d seen something and then suddenly multiple people were talking about it. It seemed like there were more people talking about it than were Ah, okay.

It was just a, a phenomenon. Ah, but then in 2005, a Stanford. University professor, a linguistics professor, so he was kind of focused on words. His name was Arnold Zwicky. He wrote about this in his blog and he gave it the name, the frequency Illusion. Mm-hmm. Okay. So he thought, and this is, this is kind of where we’ve talked about the cognitive biases, kind of connecting to one another and, and overlapping.

Mm-hmm. He thought that this was really a combination of two other cognitive biases. Okay. Which, which you are. Okay. And that is selective attention and confirmation bias. So selective attention is the process of selecting and focusing on relevant stimuli and ignoring distractions. Now that can be that selective attention.

I’ve been accused of that. In fact, I’m, I’ve been quite guilty of it. My my mother used to if I was, when I was a child and I was watching television, she could come in the room and she could talk to me. It’s not just your mama honey. And I would respond and nod my head and, and have a whole conversation.

Without ever taking my eyes off the tv. Mm-hmm. And when she had left, I had no idea she’d even been there. Yeah. And she would have to interrupt, stand between me and the TV and interrupt my vision in order to actually get my attention. I think I threw a, a throwing up kid at you one time. One time. You did,

yes. So, you know, there are some people that, for a variety of reasons, Are able to harness that in a more productive manner, like studying or working, you know, working in a noisy environment and being able to maintain intense focus you know, ignore all the conversations going on around them. And funny, yeah, when I was in a cubicle arrangement where there was a lot of distraction, I had a hard time with that.

Oh, I can understand that. I really did have a hard time with that. I guess my work wasn’t as exciting as the television was when I was a child. Anyway, as an adult, that’s selective attention. Okay. So confirmation bias, we’ve talked about this before. We actually did a different video. Mm-hmm. So I, I’ll make sure I put a link to that.

And it’s a, a bias that always well, it always interacts, always interacts with this frequency illusion. And, and what it does is that we. It occurs when we notice, sorry, it, the tendency that we are, we look for evidence or information that confirms what we already believe a pattern and will not yet, it’s, it’s more of a filter.

Oh, it’s more of a filter. We’re, we’re looking confirmation biased. So we’re biased towards something that confirms what we already believe. I got it. Okay. I always want that, that answer that I already know of. And, and oftentimes we’ll sort of just overlook things that don’t agree with what we, what we like.

That’s what we believe as if they’re not there. Yeah. We’ve known a couple people like that. We’re all like that. This is a built in bias. Okay. And then one last, one third one that’s very closely related is recency illusion. And that’s the idea that or the, the bias that when we do notice something fairly recently that we tend to think that it only came into existence recently.

I’m gonna use that same example of the actor or actress, you know, like Right. They, oh my gosh, this must be their first movie, or first, first thing, and wow, what? They’re gonna be a star uhhuh. And turns out they’ve, yeah, they’ve been a star for about 10 years and I just didn’t know who they were. Or something like that.

Right? But that’s the recency illusion. So okay. Okay. So this how this gets used and it, it’s, it’s fairly harmless and I wanna say fairly benign in terms of being used marketing. Okay? Okay. Think about, you know when, when a new product comes out, when a company that has a big marketing budget wants to let you know about it.

Oh my God, there’s quite a few commercials. Yeah. Okay. And, and so not only will, you know, can you watch you know, a, a particular channel like television or, or even a particular channel on the television and see the same advertisement repeated over and over and over? Oh, Google. You know, like every 10 minutes, sometimes twice in the same show.

Oh, yeah. Which, you know, seems like a waste of money to me, but so that kind of repetition, that frequency, but also especially now that we have the social media and the internet, there are multiple channels to go to in terms of different social media platforms and different modalities. There’s social, so if they can get people talking about the you know, the product in, in, in commenting, you know, in social feeds.

Then you get some social proof and, and you can show up in different ways with pictures and videos and, and a lot of different formats. So that it gives the appearance that this thing is everywhere and that everyone is talking about it, which then, ah, the illusion then triggers us to, ooh, well I don’t wanna be left out and if everybody likes this and they’re all talking about it, I must need it too.

So that’s how it’s used in marketing and that’s, you know, if you’re marketing multi-channel, you know, it’s you probably get more bang from doing. Multiple repetitions in a shorter amount of time. Then by spreading them out over Right. You know, months that would be Oh yeah. The lesson for this.

Yeah. Because, cuz you, the people forget, another thing that makes us worse is our inability to fully comprehend the nature of randomness. Okay. Things there, many things are random. True. Just random. And our brain, because we are hardwired to notice patterns, to look for patterns. Right. You know, that’s our part of our survival is to find patterns.

Right. And, and because we’re hardwired that way, we, you know, we’re looking for ’em and we’ll, we’ll see them. Sometimes even when they’re not there. And so that’s where we get, and actually we talked about the, another bias, which the name is not coming right now, but the you know, the, the idea of the winning streaks, you know, we talked about our, when our luck is due to change in this, right.

I think this idea, think a couple of two, a losing streak or a winning streak. Yeah. And, and so we’ll see streaks when it’s really just random data. Right. You know, you can flip, you can flip 10, not often, but you can flip 10 heads in a row. And, and that’s still random, right? Okay. On a coin. So because you’re gonna guarantee that number 11 is gonna be head to, so our pattern spotting ability, this, this hardwire is very helpful for learning.

Right? Right. We, we make associations and we see patterns, right? And it’s great for learning, but it it can also cause us to come to false conclusions, see patterns by seeing patterns when they’re not really there. Well, and it also doesn’t, or, or to assign greater importance to a very minor event. Oh, because, because of this recency Oh, box.

Either the recency illusion or the pa the frequency illusion of okay. Wow. It seems like that’s everywhere when actually, no, it’s, nothing’s changed. Okay. So it, it’s this. So math’s not everywhere. What’s not everywhere? Nothing. Not, okay. So the, it’s a, it’s more effect. The, the, the effect is a little bit more pronounced when we have an emotional.

Response, attach to it or attachment to something. Again, I’ll go back to the actor or actress if we think they’re really. Good looking. You know, we may have that tendency to suddenly notice them everywhere as opposed to well I don’t want to pick on anybody, so I won’t say another name. Or if I lust after a new car, that just happens to be Yes, yes, you might.

Yes. They’re everywhere. It’s gonna enhance that effect. Exactly. So and I could be one of the crowd on that one. And this is where it, it ties into emotional intelligence a little bit. Mm-hmm. Because our, the, the first level of emotional intelligence is noticing or, or self-awareness, noticing what we’re feeling.

Okay. Okay. So the way that we, we can’t ever do away with this bias, but we can limit it by noticing that we’re knowing that it happens and noticing when we’re doing it. Okay. And, and, and with that emotional response to something, if we’re starting, if we’re seeing, wow, I see, I see this everywhere. We can now ch we can check ourselves, we can ask, well now is that, is that really a change?

That really true? Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a little bit of emotional intelligence. And then to further develop our emotional intelligence, mindfulness is, is actually a A, a great place to start because A, a, you know, a very, it’s a very simple thing. Number one, it can be very short in duration number two, and it allows us to develop our focus in the present and also noticing what we’re experiencing, what we’re feeling physically as well as emotions.

Summary, mindfulness, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, frequency, illusion. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Thanks so much for sticking with us, and we’ll see you in another video. Bye bye.

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