The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (ft. Among Us)

Why and how our brain tricks us into seeing specific things everywhere.


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Everyday items can end up resembling Among Us characters.

Mitchell Thompson, Reporter

Have you ever looked at the ceiling? I mean REALLY looked at it. Thought about its design or shape or even imperfections? There might be a hole in it somewhere or it might have a strange corner that doesn’t line up with the pattern. If you haven’t already, try looking at one now.


Now, this may be a fun little experiment, but it is clearly nothing special. What is special though, is if, in the next few days, you start to notice different parts of different ceilings. It might become a fun habit to study the ceiling when you are bored. But why now? You have been looking at these ceilings for a long time now, so how come you are just noticing the differences now, and why are you noticing it so much all of a sudden? That would be the fault of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.


In 1994, a man in Minnesota named Terry Mullen heard about the infamous German communist group, the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. The RAF was notorious for violence and terrorism in a time of political unrest in Germany. This was the first time in his life Terry had heard of this group, so it seemed strange that very shortly after this he read about it in a book. He wrote to his local newspaper about this strange coincidence. Soon after publishing the letter, the newspaper received many different letters detailing separate but similar events in their own lives. Thus, the idea was brought into the public conscience and dubbed the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Later it would be renamed to Frequency Illusion or Frequency Bias, but it seems all three names are used today.


I’m sure by now you have been thinking of examples of this in your life. Popular examples are advertisements that you get for something you were just thinking about or seeing a lot of a new word you just learned. However, the most infamous example is the recent trend of seeing the crewmate from Among Us seemingly everywhere. The crewmate has a very simple design, at its most basic consisting of a half-circle with two lines sticking out of it and an oval near the top. The design could be seen in many common circumstances: fire alarms, trashcans, brand logos, and even the letter [A]. So why is it so easy to see if you look for it?


Well, there had to be a whole whirlpool of coincidences to make this happen. First, the design of the crewmate: simple, recognizable, and very pattern based. Often things that look like the crewmate don’t even have the legs, making the oval at the top of a rounded shape even easier to spot. Second, the popularity of the game itself. Everyone knows about Among Us. I didn’t have to explain it to you. It was easily the most popular game of 2020, and due to us having to stay inside all year, it opened a gateway to have fun with friends, so it’s thought about even more than other popular games. Third, the internet took this trend and ran with it. People were posting about seeing the crewmate in whatever they could find, just because it was funny and relatable. They progressively lowered the bar for what counted so more and more people could join in, even when there were no concrete examples.


We really have come a long way from the German communist group, haven’t we? Well, while this article wasn’t meant to be about Among Us, that just happened to be a fantastic case study still fresh in people’s minds. However, there are more broad reasons the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon takes place that can be seen there too. Arnold Zwicky, a professor at Stanford University, considers it to be made of two main parts, Selective-Attention Bias and Confirmation Bias. Selective-Attention Bias is used by our brain to focus on important or notable things in our lives and somewhat ignore the rest. Confirmation Bias is when our brain picks up on information that confirms our past hypotheses, therefore proving us correct in a way. These two biases combined lead us to recognize patterns that may seem odd to us and make us feel like the said pattern is everywhere, disregarding how much time has passed without us noticing it. Sure, it may seem like your phone is listening to you, but in between talking about a new pair of shoes and getting an ad for them, you may have seen dozens of different ads that had nothing to do with them. Maybe the concert you were thinking about isn’t advertised because you said it out loud, but because it’s just the popular thing right now. And this isn’t even counting how much you talk about that isn’t advertised to you.


This may seem like a harmless part of our brain, but it does seem to have some detrimental impacts on certain people. A prime example is schizophrenics, who instead of seeing this as a coincidence, instead see it as a secret message or a clue to a bigger puzzle or worse. It also has had a part in courts not using witness testimonials anymore. People may accidentally misremember events just because they believe something else is true.


Analyzing the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is one of the greatest ways to look at the human mind from a whole new perspective. Our pattern recognition skills are as amazing as they are important, so it’s fun to look at their goofier side effects. We can’t control most of our brains, but maybe understanding how it works can really help us in the long run. But hey, maybe there are real coincidences out there. Maybe there is no real reason why you are just now realizing how much people use the word “like” when they talk.


That ought to get you thinking.



Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, November 12). Frequency illusion. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from

Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, December 8). Red Army Faction. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from