occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it.
The “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon” was coined by a reader of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Terry Mullen. The Minnesota newspaper runs a daily column called “Bulletin Board,” for which readers, using pseudonyms (in this case it was ‘Gigetto on Lincoln’), submit humorous or interesting anecdotes. The term was coined when Mullen submitted a story around 1986, about how he first heard about the terrorist group known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang and then heard about it again a short while later from a different source.
Readers suddenly piled on with their own versions of the phenomenon, which quickly came to be known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Today, all similar stories are published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Bulletin Board under the heading “Baader Meinhof Phenomenon.”
Editors of the section distinguish between “Baader-Meinhof” and “Joy of Juxtaposition,” as related categories. A B-M, as it’s popularly named, requires that the item not be seasonal, e.g. two references to St Nicholas in December, and not be especially commonplace. Technically, a B-M occurs in a 24 hour space, although there can be some leeway on this requirement. When readers submit a possible B-M, the editors rule on its acceptability. Their ruling cannot be appealed.
There are several theories about the psychological explanation of the phenomenon, including a popular one that cites its primary cause as being the recency effect, in which the human brain has a bias that lends increased prominence to new or recently acquired information.
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a form of synchronicity. A Jungian explanation is that the person learns the new phrase as part of a collective consciousness, which is also active in others. The concepts which float to the surface of the collective consciousness manifest themselves in different people at about the same time, leading to this effect. However, this is not considered in the mainstream scientific community.
According to social scientist Brian Townsend, this ‘phenomenon’ is a result of our limited perception of our surroundings. Take the concept of Schadenfreude, which is a German word for “taking joy in the misfortune of others”. This concept is discussed periodically in mainstream media and other sources. If one does not know what it is, and has no intention of learning what it is, one may hear the term and easily forget about it, as it does not ‘fit’ into the person’s conceptions of reality. They may even rationalize that they heard a different word. However, once the person understands what the concept means, they will then notice it when the concept comes up in day-to-day life, whereas before, the person made few or no memories concerning the concept, as it was outside the realm of their understanding.
This is the most conservative theory concerning the ‘Phenomenon’, since it does not require postulating a collective mind. However, it makes a prediction that the frequency of the new word in society should be equal before and after an individual learns the word— in other words, that there would be no correlations between the new words that different individuals suddenly find meaningful enough to retain in their conscious mind and use. The hypothesis of collective consciousness predicts that there would be a strong correlation between the new vocabulary acquisitions of different individuals in the same collective, and this is a measurable quantity, so that this is not only a philosophical question; however, this can generally be explained through simple memetics.