The Mandela Effect refers to a situation in which a large mass of people believes that an event occurred when it didn’t. The term was first coined by Fiona Broome in 2009 when she discovered that she along with others thought that Nelson Mandela had died in the 1980s. Nelson Mandela actually died in 2013. This discrepancy in memory sparked a larger conversation about the nature of memory and the ways in which our perceptions and recollections of events can be influenced by a variety of factors.
The Mandela Effect has since been used to describe similar instances of collective misremembering and false memory and has been the subject of much discussion and debate in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and sociology. Here are the different causes of the Mandela Effect and the ways it’s used.
Features of the Mandela Effect
- Having distorted memories in which some aspects are partially or entirely inaccurate
- Clearly remembering entire events that did not happen
- Several unrelated people sharing similar distorted or inaccurate memories
- Heavily debated mass memory
Causes of the Mandela Effect
Memory is highly suggestible, and researchers have even discovered ways to induce false memories. False memories are untrue or distorted recollections of an event. So many factors including your desire to believe something can influence how you recall something.
This refers to false memories that people spontaneously generate to compensate for holes in a person’s memory. For example, because you don’t recall what happened to Mandela, you could conclude that he’s dead and then report that belief as a memory.
Priming uses suggestive techniques to trigger a certain response that then ends up being recorded as a memory. One malicious way this is used is by police who after shooting an unarmed person who wasn’t even fleeing, shout something like, “stop resisting arrest”. When witnesses are later asked if the victim was resisting arrest, those words will have triggered a false memory and they could say the victim was resisting arrest.
The internet is the chief machine for spreading false claims and conspiracies. Bad actors harness this potent tool to spread false memories using tactics like:
- Combining false information with true information
- Repeating a false claim so often that it begins to seem true
- Spreading fake news stories to support a false claim
One theory about the source of the Mandela Effect originates from quantum physics. It relates to the idea that there are alternate realities rather than one timeline of events. For many people, this theory and the mysterious nature of alternate realities are appealing. The idea of alternate realities is unfalsifiable so there’s no way to discount the possibilities of it.
Fun examples of the Mandela Effect
“Luke, I am your father”
Most people remember Darth Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father.” What he actually said was, “No, I am your father.”
“Mirror, mirror on the wall”
This line from the Disney classic, is actually, “Magic mirror on the wall.” Which do you remember?
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