What is the Mandela Effect?

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What is the Mandela Effect?

The Mandela Effect is identified as the occurrence of false memories, false contextualization of an event that occurred / Photo by Alessia Pierdomenico via Shutterstock


Have you ever been convinced that something happened only to discover that you’ve remembered it all wrong? If so, you’ve experienced a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect. 

The Mandela Effect refers to an observed phenomenon where a large group of people remembers a significant event that did not occur—a collective misremembering of sorts. Many of us have probably experienced this. For instance, do you remember a painting of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg? If you say yes, you are wrong, as no such painting has ever existed, although there have been similar cartoons created. Another popular example is a line Darth Vader uttered in “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back” that was supposed to say, “Luke, I am your father.” But, that was wrong. Instead, the correct line was, “No, I am your father.”

According to an article by Verywell Mind, a trusted online resource that provides guidance to people to improve their mental health and to find balance, the internet plays an integral role in the Mandela Effect. It influences the masses with wrong memories. The phenomenon, which has been evident throughout history, has grown more in the digital age. The spread of misinformation has become a lot easier nowadays. 

A recent study published in Science found out that hoaxes and rumors overpower the truth by about 70 percent. The researchers analyzed over 100,000 news stories discussed across Twitter. They discovered that the misinformation is not the result of manipulation or bots since even real verified accounts of people are spreading those hoaxes and rumors. As a result, people tend to create falsehoods and share them within a large community. What was once merely imagined has become factual for a lot of people. 


History of the Mandela Effect

The Mandela Effect was coined after many people across the world believed that Nelson Mandela, a South African leader, died in prison in the 1980s. The truth is, he died in 2013 at the age of 95. According to an article by HowStuffWorks, an online site that features explanations and colorful illustrations related to earth science, life science, and other wonders of the physical world, the term was first used by self-described paranormal consultant Fiona Broome in 2009.

Broome found out that she was not the only one who remembered that Mandela died in the 1980s in prison. Others even remembered seeing news coverage of his death and the speech of his widow. She was even more shocked to find that a large mass people remembered the same thing even though it never happened. Thus, she started a website that discusses what she called the Mandela Effect and other incidents like it.

Many people believe that the Mandela Effect is not another form of a conspiracy theory, as both are very much different from each other. One major characteristic that differentiates them is that the Mandela Effect does not attempt to make or find any answer, unlike conspiracy theories. Also, the Mandela Effect is identified as the occurrence of false memories, false contextualization of an event that occurred, ignorance of linguistics or remembering words spelled incorrectly, and distortion of existing memories.


Explanations of the Mandela Effect

According to an article by The Conversation, a not-for-profit media outlet that uses content sourced from academics and researchers, psychologists explain the Mandela Effect through memory and social effects. Mistakenly recalling events or experiences is called confabulation, which is relatively common in our daily lives. This can be explained by the Deese-Roediger and McDermott paradigm, which shows that learning a list of words that contain closely related items can produce false recognition of related but non-presented words. For instance, words like “bed” and “pillow” can be represented as “sleep.”

Usually, humans are vulnerable to confabulation that occurs when the brain is attempting to fill in the blanks for incomplete memories.

Caitlin Aamodt, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate, explained that the Mandela Effect boils down to the fact that human memory is notoriously unreliable. "Memories are organized in the brain so that similar memories are stored in nearby neurons. When a memory is recalled, those cells can change their connections, which allows for the addition of new information. But because 'neurons that fire together wire together,' sometimes false memories can emerge from erroneous connections,” she said.

Many instances of the Mandela Effect are attributable to so-called “schema-driven errors.” Experts explained that schemas are organized “packets” of knowledge that direct memory. That’s why we can understand the relevant information. However, schemas can also produce distortions. This process is explained in a 1932 book, “Remembering,” written by Frederic Barlett. The author read the Canadian Indian folktale “War of the Ghosts” to participants. He discovered that the listeners transformed information and omitted unfamiliar details to make it more understandable.

The Mandela Effect was coined after many people across the world believed that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s / Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky via Shutterstock


Another explanation of the Mandela Effect is the concept of an alternate universe or reality. Broome theorized that the phenomenon is caused by multiple realities of each universe or the multiverse. She explained that there are variations of objects, events, and people within each universe. In theory, all the times that people remembered the same event even though it hasn’t happened is because the timeline has been altered as we shift between different realities. 

Aamodt also emphasized the power of suggestion. "Suggestibility is the tendency to believe what others suggest to be true. This is why lawyers are prohibited from asking witnesses leading questions that suggest a specific answer."



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