A few days ago, a follower sent me a message through LinkedIn: “Ever since I haveread your book Een zoektocht naar dankbaarheid, I see things all around me that I can be grateful for. I never had that before, what a coincidence!” However, this is no coincidence. Psychologists call this the frequency-illusion or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. As soon as someone becomes aware of something, the brain tends to notice it more often.
Whether you are pregnant and suddenly see pregnant women and strollers everywhere, or have bought a new car from a certain brand and then see it passing by everywhere, these are all examples of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or the frequency illusion. This psychological phenomenon was given its name in 1994 by a moderator on the St. Paul Pioneer Press online forum. He had noticed that he had heard the name of the far-left German Baader-Meinhof terrorist group twice in one day.
Professor Arnold Swicky, professor of linguistics at Stanford University, was the first to describe the more scientific description of the frequency-illusion in 2006. He wrote that this phenomenon is a combination of our selective attention and our confirmation bias. Selective attention means that people notice things that catch the eye and they can ignore everything else around them. In addition, people like it when their assumptions are confirmed. This causes them to look for things to support their assumptions and ignore evidence to the contrary. Once our brain knows to look for something, they will find it.
You can use this frequency-illusion to be more grateful in life. By being aware of gratitude, your brain will start looking for gratitude. And every time you feel grateful, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is amplified. Gratitude can be anywhere, anytime and in this way, it becomes part of your daily life. So if someone reads my book Een zoektocht naar dankbaarheid, follows my Twitter account @GratitudeNL or in some other way becomes aware of gratitude, it can happen that suddenly there are all kinds of things in life that someone can be grateful for.
Dr. Lilian Jans-Beken is founder and ceo of the Thriving Human Science Center. She graduated in lifespan psychology, received a PhD in positive psychology, and she became an expert in gratitude and mental health. She is a scientific researcher who writes and talks about human thriving in general and gratitude specifically. In 2019, she wrote a book Een zoektocht naar dankbaarheid which is available through her personal website