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The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: Background information when reading The Wife Between Us

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The Wife Between Us

by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen X
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2018, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

This article relates to The Wife Between Us

Print Review

At one point in The Wife Between Us, the main character claims to have experienced Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. She states, "It's when you become aware of something—the name of an obscure band, say, or a new type of pasta—and it seems to suddenly appear everywhere."

The phenomenon (pronounced badder-mainhoff) is also known as a "frequency illusion," and was first speculated about in 1995 by a commentator on the St. Paul's Pioneer Press online discussion board. He'd heard reference to a left-wing German terrorist organization that had been active in the 1970s twice in one day, and wondered how he could suddenly become aware of something so obscure.

The phenomenon even has a dedicated Facebook page. Stanford professor Arnold Zwicky wrote about the syndrome in 2006, dubbing it "frequency illusion." He stated that it is triggered by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, occurs whenever you encounter something new. It causes that information—be it a new word or thing or idea—to remain at the top of your unconscious mind, and consequently you seem to come across that new thing more frequently. The second process is confirmation bias, by which you to try to rationalize the sudden, regular appearance of this new item. In short, you believe this "new" thing truly is cropping up everywhere, when it fact it's always been present but you've just never noticed.

In addition to the processes speculated about by Zwicky, others who study cognitive function add that our brains are really good at seeing patterns and trying to fit new information into a pattern to understand it better; if none exists the mind may create one, reinforcing the Baader-Meinhof effect.

Obviously, Baader-Meinhof isn't the only reason you may think you're running across an unusual item or idea more often. Traditional marketing campaigns almost always look to communicate a product or message multiple times to the same person. And these days, when we browse the web we often see the same products or messages due to a web-based advertising technique called remarketing. As you visit websites (particularly shopping sites), tracking cookies may be placed on your computer's hard drive, depending on your web browser settings. When you visit other web pages which use the same advertiser, those cookies are then read back by the advertiser's software and the algorithms they employ show you related ads. In such a case, you're not really a victim of Baader-Meinhof, it's your web browsing that is being tracked.

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Wife Between Us. It originally ran in February 2018 and has been updated for the October 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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