For example, when you buy a car, you start becoming more aware of cars with a similar make and model. The number of that type of car hasn't increased, but your awareness of it has.

Similarly, when you learn a new word, you start hearing the same word used in different places. You probably just filtered the word out previously, but now you've become aware of it.

How do you describe the phenomenon when you become more aware of something after an initial or significant exposure or experience with that thing? What term or word can you use?

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    I might say I researched and/or learned about it. Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 22:08
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    A similar effect -- not quite what you describe, but you might be interested in it anyway -- is the observer-expectancy effect. That's when someone tells you "there will be unusually many blue cars on the road today" and suddenly hey, there are. But without the prompting you would not have come to that conclusion yourself. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 14:42
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    "I just heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon and now I see it everywhere" was sooo 3 days ago.
    – Jack Ryan
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:55
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    The answer to this [truthfully] is 42. Perhaps you had better understand the question...
    – user66701
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 22:04
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    @ElliottFrisch It's absolutely not research. Research is a deliberate process of trying to find out about something, which may or may not succeed. The OP is asking about an increased level of awareness that occurs without conscious effort. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 19:52

13 Answers 13


It is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or the frequency illusion.

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one stumbles upon some obscure piece of information⁠—often an unfamiliar word or name⁠—and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that yesterday” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof.
damninteresting.com / The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, by Alan Bellows, March 2006

Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky coined [the term "frequency illusion"] in 2006 to describe the syndrome in which a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere. It’s caused, he wrote, by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after that, you unconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained overnight omnipresence.
psmag.com / There's a Name for That: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon / by Pacific Standard staff

Additional reading:
itre.cis.upenn.edu / Just Between Dr. Language and I / by Arnold Zwicky on Language Log

Update, July 2022:

Since then, OED1 has added the definitions for both terms as well:

  • Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, from 1994:

attributive. Designating a quirk of perception whereby a phenomenon to which one is newly alert suddenly seems ubiquitous. Chiefly in Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
Also called the frequency illusion

  • frequency illusion, from 2005:

n. a quirk of perception whereby a phenomenonbr>to which one is newly alert suddenly seems ubiquitous.
Also called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

1 Subscription required.

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    Sounds interesting, but neither of those sources are very convincing in showing that this is a prevalently used term. Googling the term doesn't show any more definitive or convincing support either. In fact, those are the only two results that I found that refer to this usage of "Baader-Meinhof". I also searched Arnold Zwicky's own website, which doesn't even refer to the term. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 1:11
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    @JavidJamae whether some term is prevalent shouldn't be an issue as long as it is correct meaning-wise. If everyone used the same terms to describe things all the time, world will be a bit boring.
    – user13107
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 1:17
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    @user13107 so if I started calling it the "User13107 Phenomenon" and wrote a blog post about it, should it be marked as the correct answer? Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 1:25
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    @ermanen - Yes, I have no problem saying that "frequency illusion" or "recency illusion" is correct (as per the source you just gave), but "Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon" seems like an extremely uncommon neologism backed by a few random blog posts with no original sources listed. I'd mark your answer correct if you removed that definition or provided a more authoritative reference on the term demonstrating its use/acceptance. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 1:33
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    Not to go all sour-grapes here, but this obscurely named phenomenon is MUCH more frequently referred to by one of the 3 words in my answer. Humph! ;-) Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 18:28

I've called it red car syndrome for decades, but apparently to the world at large it's...

Blue Car Syndrome - a whole article there, but it's perfectly well defined in UrbanDictionary as...

The act of seeing or hearing something and then suddenly seeing it everywhere.
You buy a blue car, and suddenly you notice blue cars everywhere.

Technically, as ermanen notes, it's a type of cognitive bias called the Frequency Illusion.

  • red car syndrome is a good name fo this. Red cars stick out in a crowd. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 0:30
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    Actually, that's why blue car syndome is a better name. Blue cars don't stand out by themselves, they only stand out because you're biased as a result of having bought one.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 2:21
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    @Susan: Back in the 80s when I started using the term, several of my friends had just reached the point of getting company cars. Unlike private buyers, they didn't normally get a choice of colour - it was usually "any colour you like, so long as it's red". Rightly or wrongly, we figured the preference for red came from the fleet buyers - who knew that statistically, red cars are less likely to be involved in accidents. Because they stand out more, not because drivers who prefer red are more careful (but if I had a Ferrari Testarossa I know I'd be careful with it! :) Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:44
  • I keep noticing silver Honda Odysseys everywhere. What does that mean?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 21:37
  • @Barmar, Shouldn't it be beige car syndrome, black car syndrome or silver car syndrome then?
    – Pacerier
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 10:59

One term to describe the phenomenon is priming

Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences a response to a later stimulus. It can occur following perceptual, semantic, or conceptual stimulus repetition. For example, if a person reads a list of words including the word table, and is later asked to complete a word starting with tab, the probability that he or she will answer table is greater than if they are not primed.

There is an excellent discussion of this in the recent bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, in which he explains how priming (also called anchoring) influences our attitudes and decision making.

Kahneman offers a brief discussion of it here.


I've heard it called "tuning". As in, you tune (consciously or not) your mind to notice a certain pattern.

You can become "attuned" to it.

Here's a reference (though I'm not a fan of woo stuff): http://bigstatebiglife.com/resonates-life-purpose/

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    +1: without looking for overcomplicated definitions, I think "attuned" is the best one.
    – ceztko
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 9:57

A heightened sense of awareness is one way to describe this phenomenon but related words with slightly different definitions include:

"synchronicity" - "Synchronicity is a concept developed by psychologist Carl Jung to describe a perceived meaningful coincidence. Jung described synchronicity as an "acausal connecting principle" in which events, both large and small, in the external world might align to the experience of the individual, perhaps mirroring or echoing personal concerns or thoughts."*

"apophenia" "...the human tendency to seek and perceive connections between unrelated phenomena"*


  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

*From a posting by Margaret Rouse on Whatis.techtarget.com


I would say that you are now enlightened young grasshopper.


Sensitization (Merriam-Webster)

ex. At the first sound of fireworks, she dove under the table. Her childhood in a war zone had sensitized her to anything that sounded like military ordnance.


The OP's question does not say that the realization of the ubiquity of some particular phenomenon is, in fact, illusory. Yet many of the answers seem to suppose this. I understood the question as describing someone who has recently been exposed to the existence of a thing or a concept that they were not aware of before, and, as a consequence, they began paying attention to it, and have now opened their eyes to the thing's prevalence and come to realize its pervasiveness.


You have become cognizant:

knowledgeable of something especially through personal experience



A simple word is just Dawn:

become evident to the mind; be perceived or understood.

"the awful truth was beginning to dawn on him"

occur to, come to, strike, hit, enter someone's mind, register with, enter someone's consciousness, cross someone's mind, suggest itself

"the reality dawned on him"

(from Oxford Dictionaries through Google)


I've heard this referred to as the "plate of shrimp" phenomenon, after dialogue from the movie Repo Man:

A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.


Nearly six years late to this party but I think it's worth saying that the term "frequency illusion" which ermanen gave in their answer doesn't hit the nail on the head.

In the phenomenon that OP described, the person perceived the thing frequently, which entails it really occurring frequently, so its frequency is not an illusion. What makes the person aware of this thing is that they previously had the notion that it was rare, and have only recently noticed that it's commoner than they thought it was. This is called the "recency illusion", as Javid Jamae pointed out in a comment.




  • an occasion when you realize something or become aware of something
  • the act of beginning to understand or feel something; the act of something starting or somebody waking

(Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)



  • knowledge about and understanding of something; the process of understanding something or making somebody understand it

(Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)


of or showing learning or knowledge; well-informed: learned in the ways of the world.

(Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on the Random House Dictionary)

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