It is a very common phenomenon. It happens that you buy something… and suddenly you see it everywhere. You are interested in a topic… and everything suddenly seems to remind you of it. It’s the strange effect of the frequency illusion. It is also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and is related to memory.
“Now that you know something, you seem to see it more often,” explains Dr. Neha Pathak. She has a degree in Psychology and Biology from Harvard University. “First of all, you will believe that something appears more frequently now. Later, you will convince yourself that that word, concept or something else did not appear as much as it does now. It is known as confirmation bias. In reality, the frequency has not increased. But your brain has convinced you of it,” she adds.
It is the result of two well-known psychological processes. On the one hand, selective attention comes into play. It makes us focus on what is important to us at that moment and discard the rest. It is key to our learning. And, on the other hand, confirmation bias. We look for things that support what we think at a given moment. Human beings are made up of seeking explanations of how the world works and we adapt to it.
“It has evolutionary importance,” explains Joanna Riera, doctor in social psychology and clinical psychologist. “It is normal that it occurs in a large part of the population. It has evolutionary factors linked to the survival of the species. Another thing is that we are aware,” indicates the training director of the specialized website Psychology and Mind.
We have a capacity for perception because we have a limited number of elements to attend to. Otherwise, we would not be able to adapt to our environment. It is in this process in which we capture some elements through our senses and process them. That process is what we call perception.
“If I see a lot of blue cars, let’s say I do it as a hypothetical deductive method. I think yes, it is indeed full of blue cars. This is the basis of many cases of biases that cause certain perceptual alterations. This is the case of the frequency illusion,” explains Riera, while highlighting the importance of the adaptive part of this phenomenon.
“Bias don’t always have to be bad. “Sometimes biases are there to adapt and survive in our environment,” she adds. And the strange effect of the illusion of frequency is a primary element in this adaptation.