The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: It’s Not a Coincidence

You’ve just heard about this phenomenon before? If not, trust me, you probably will soon. And that’s what we call the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon“.

It was not long before I heard the word “pseudoscientific” in TBBT when I first learnt it from a book. It seems like an interesting coincidence because as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a usual word that can be seen anywhere. However, I saw it twice over a very short period of time.

The phenomenon was first introduced in 1986 by Terry Mullen, a reader of St. Paul Pioneer Press. He wrote to the column “Bulletin Board” to describe this kind of feeling. He said that after he first heard about the “Baader-Meinhof Gang”, the Red Army Faction and left-wing German terrorism, he occasionally came across that term again before long. Terry’s story struck a chord with the other readers as well; hence the phenomenon was named “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”.


If a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere, then you’re experiencing the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”.

It’s not only a coincidence. It’s psychologically a little bit like “synchronicity“. The concept of synchronicity can be explained as “a meaningful coincidence”. It’s like your girlfriend is calling you when you happen to think of her, or you get a message from your boyfriend as soon as you pick up your phone. If these coincidences occur several times (and actually they will), you’ll not treat them as coincidences only.

There’s another psychological term – “selective attention“. It’s when your brain ignores those usual things or unfamiliar things for you automatically. You pay no extra attention to the message your bank sends to you even if simultaneously you’re looking at your phone, right? You think it’s a small world when you meet your old friend in a strange city but you’ll never say it’s a big world when you don’t meet any of your acquaintances there. Our brain takes away what we don’t care and leaves what we’re interested in. And if this happens repeatedly, you’ll experience the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon more often.

It is clear now why there are always some strange coincidences around you. It’s hard to explain, because they’re not just coincidences.

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