Get Rich Writing with Chin Trivia

A rambling essay on the joys of the frequency illusion

You know that feeling when you start noticing a thing and then it’s EVERYWHERE? That’s called the frequency illusion.

This week it’s cleft chins. Every movie we watch lately seems to have an actor with a darling dimple.

  • Kirk Douglas
  • John Travolta
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Cary Grant

Yeah, we watch a lot of old movies. I tell myself that facial features go in and out of style in film, just like body types, and cleft chins are an old movie star thing. Then I see a picture of Jeff Bezos. And another of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. So much for the trend theory.

Is it synchronicity? Is the universe telling me something important about chin dimples?

I don’t think so. I am quite open to the idea of synchronicity, a Jungian concept that the subconscious might be making connections for a larger purpose, but I don’t think there is anything deeper to my cleft chin observations.

Trivial Trivia

In an effort to make some sense of the plethora of chins, I wandered down more research rabbit holes than usual. Would you care to join me in learning a chinful of trivia? (I promise I’ll get back to the frequency illusion in a bit.)

  • According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 16,446 mentoplasty procedures took place in the U.S. during 2019. Mentoplasty includes all kinds of chin augmentation, including adding or removing chin dimples.
  • Although there is a strong genetic influence, a single dominant allele does not determine cleftness — no matter what you learned in biology class. According to, researchers have identified 38 genetic markers related to cleft chins. Cleft chins are more common in men than in women.
  • Distinct clefts form during fetal development when the two sides of the jawbone don’t completely fuse together. Other dimples have to do with the musculature or tissue under the skin.


In traditional Chinese physiognomy… [the cleft chin]is the symbol of ‘two homes’. On the good side, it suggests two or more houses (property); on the bad side, it may indicate the husband and wife living in separate places or remarriage.

Neither my husband nor I have a cleft chin. We do have two houses, though. Nothing revelatory there.

What about Western face reading? The following is from Dr. Jerry Epstein, the author of The Science of Face Reading, a Practitioner’s Guide to Morphology:

A cleft in the chin has two main meanings: 1) narcissism, or self–absorption; and 2) duplicity. One or the other is operating, sometimes both. At any rate, people with this feature are commonly — male or female — quite good looking, e.g., Ava Gardner, Kirk Douglas.

  • According to Moon Tree, people who fall in the Gemini sun sign “usually have a cleft chin or dimple in the chin.” Interesting. I wonder if Trump has had a chin job? He is a Gemini, after all.

Let’s skip off to some psychology with a bit more scientific basis, shall we?

Frequency illusion

Frequency illusion has two parts. One is “selective attention.” Usually, I pay no attention to chins at all, but once I noticed Kirk Douglas’, cleft chins became a magnet for my eyes.

Our brains categorize and make patterns of what we see, noticing some things and filtering others. Think of all the tiny details that make up a face. Most of the time, you see Kirk Douglas’ face in an old movie and you think “Kirk Douglas,” or maybe you think “Spartacus,” and your mind leaps to something else that demands your attention. But in my case, I became focused on chins.

If I start to think that there is a high frequency of cleft chins in the movies because I’m noticing them, then that’s the second half of frequency illusion — another kind of cognitive bias called confirmation bias.

There aren’t really more cleft chins on TV this week than last week. If I took a random sample of actors in the movies I watched at any given time, the number of cleft chins would be about the same (unless I was watching a Douglas family marathon or some other confounding variable). But when I start noticing cleft chins, each time I see another, it confirms my idea that they proliferate. Thus, confirmation bias.

Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

Ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? Sounds like it must be named after two scientists who first wrote about it, doesn’t it? If you know obscure left-wing history, you might correctly recognize it as a reference to the West German Baader-Meinhof gang.

But the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is just another name for the frequency illusion.

The story goes like this: A guy named Terry Mullen was talking to a friend about the far-left Baader-Meinhof group. The next day, the friend pointed out an article in that day’s newspaper that mentioned the group — and this, decades after Baader-Meinhof, was big news.

Mullen wrote to the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ online discussion board (this was 1994) and described it as a phenomenon in which, after the first time you learn a new word, phrase or idea, you see that word, phrase or idea again within 24 hours. Readers responded with their own examples, and it became a meme that spread elsewhere.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Arnold Zwicky coined the term “frequency illusion.”

The marketing application

As a marketer, you want people to notice your brand…and then keep noticing it until they buy something. Even more, you want them to identify with the brand and notice people they admire also liking your brand. Then they have brand loyalty and want to keep coming back to buy more from you.

Web marketing uses “retargeting” to take advantage of selective attention. You know that whole vaguely creepy feeling you have when you have searched for something to buy — say, a bra — and then for weeks you are stalked by “Curvy Lady” ads? That’s no illusion. Retargeting purposely introduces you to ads you’ve already seen because click-through rates are 10 times higher on retargeted ads than regular display ads. It’s all about getting “brand attention” in the first place.

Once brand marketing has opened the door to your attention, confirmation bias makes you see the brand everywhere. You start to think that all the cool kids love that brand. It’s hot. Trendy. And you must have it.

For a writer, you are your brand. Gaining that attention means showing your virtual face in places that your audience hangs out. You help them bump into your writing wherever they go — the social media sites, hashtags or groups, and media outlets where people will love you.

For copywriting and freelancing, old-fashioned on-the-ground networking is also a way to boost the illusion that you are everywhere. You go to the local Chamber of Commerce meeting, get introduced to some people, and then they start noticing your face around town. Perhaps they see your byline online or in local publications. You gain “brand recognition.”

That’s why people advise us to find a niche and stay there. The more your name appears in that niche, the more likely people interested in that niche will see you. On Medium, it means having many pieces under the topics your target audience follows, perhaps gaining Top Writer status.

Once they have discovered you and followed you as a writer, you want to make sure that you keep reminding readers that you exist. Again, frequency helps open the door.

Then, if you follow The Book Mechanic’s oft-repeated advice, you get them on your mailing list, give them a ton of value, and build your tribe. Your tribe buys your amazing writing and any other useful products you might hawk. Voila! The frequency illusion makes you rich.


This rambling essay started on a whim, and I couldn’t give it up after spending waaay too much time on the image at the top of the page. My personal takeaway is that I need an editor. This piece has become a word collage tied together with a fishing line of a theme. For you, the reader, I offer a few interesting points:

  • Cleft chins are hot as all-get-out. If you have one, don’t even think about mentoplasty.
  • If you have a cleft chin and are a Gemini, let me know, ’cause how often does that really happen? Confirm my bias, please.
  • Write often. Get your name out there. The more people see your work, the more likely they are to recognize your name, to follow you, and to buy whatever it is you’re selling (even ideas)

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. If you are interested in reading my writings on organization, ADHD, psychology, and productivity, please check out If you add your email to the form you’ll find there, I’ll send you a major discount on The Messy Planner and a life-enhancing freebie nearly every month.

Librarian. Curious human. Writing about psychology, science, and messy productivity. I believe in the Oxford comma. (She/Her/Hers)

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